how do they manage?
a review of the research on leadership in early

Daniel Muijs, Carol Aubrey, Alma Harris and
Mary Briggs
University of Warwick

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This article presents the findings from a review of literature on leadership
in early childhood (EC). It identifies a paucity of research, despite a high
potential for leadership activity in the early childhood field. It concludes
that there is a clear need to identify what effective leadership practice is in
terms of processes and outcomes within this field. It also concludes that
theoretically based studies that allow different models and characteristics
to be empirically tested are long overdue. The serious lack of leadership
training is also highlighted by the literature review, which means that
many early childhood managers could be significantly under-prepared for
their role.

K E Y W O R D S early childhood, early years, leadership


Effective leadership is widely accepted as being a key constituent in achieving
organizational improvement (OfSTED, 2000). Research findings from diverse
countries and different educational contexts have revealed the powerful
impact of leadership in securing successful organizational development and
change (Van Velzen et al., 1985; Harris et al., 2002). Whatever else is disputed,
the contribution of leadership to improving organizational performance and
raising achievement remains unequivocal. However, while leadership research
in the school sector is burgeoning – driven chiefly by the National College for
School Leadership – in sharp contrast the research on leadership in the early

journal of early childhood research
Copyright © 2004, Sage Publications (
Vol 2(2) 157–169 [ISSN 1476-718X DOI: 10.1177/1476718X04042974]

years is limited. In this article we have attempted to provide a systematic
review of research on leadership in early years.


In this literature review we have endeavoured to interrogate the international
research evidence relating to leadership in the early years sector. A wide-
ranging search was employed, encompassing electronic databases such as
ERIC, BEI and Psyclit as well as a trawl of key journals on leadership and
early years. Material was selected only if there was a clear focus on leadership
and management in an early years setting. Initially, we decided to select only
those studies that provided a full overview of research methodology used and
clear evidence of an empirical base for any claims made. However, we had to
broaden our search to include studies that did not conform to these criteria
due to a lack of studies fulfilling them. We did not limit the material reviewed
to studies using any particular research methodology, as we follow a prag-
matic approach to methodology, believing in the worth of different (and mixed)
methodologies that allow us to explore both breadth and depth (Tashakkori
and Teddlie, 1998). Therefore material from both a qualitative and quantita-
tive perspective is included.

While articles in peer-reviewed journals form a major part of reviewed
materials, we felt that there was much of interest to be found in books,
professional journals and research reports, and have therefore included
materials from these sources as well.

research on leadership in the early years

As noted earlier, research on leadership in the early years sector is limited
and dominated by a relatively small number of researchers (Rodd, 1996, 1997,
1999; Bloom, 1997, 2000). Much of the literature on leadership in the early
childhood field is anecdotal, and in some cases does not transcend the ‘tips for
leaders’ style. This finding is all the more remarkable given the extensive
research literature on leadership that exists in the school sector and
increasingly in the FE sector.

In part, this seems to result from a certain hesitance to engage with
concepts of leadership among professionals in the early years settings, who
view themselves first and foremost as educators and child developers. This
has led to a situation in most English-speaking countries where there appears
to be a lack of early childhood educators with both early childhood and
leadership skills (Bricker, 2000). In one study, for example, managers in early
childhood education stated that they found contact with children and parents
and the achievement of children the most pleasurable parts of their job as

journal of early childhood research 2(2)


leaders, while they did not enjoy the management aspects (Bloom, 1992).
Studies in Victoria (Australia) similarly found that EC leaders had a narrow
view of their role, focusing mainly on direct interaction with children, and
were uncomfortable with their management role (Rodd, 1996). As increas-
ingly the traditional roles of early childhood providers, which previously
focused on direct care and education, have expanded to include management
and leadership responsibilities, this would seem to be a rather anachronistic
viewpoint. Increased accountability and financial constraints in the sector, as
well as greater competition and frequent changes in government policy that
need to be negotiated, all require quite sophisticated leadership and manage-
ment skills (Hayden, 1997; Rodd, 1997).

There is also a sense in which much of the leadership research in this area
is not well informed by theory and research in the broader field of leadership
studies. Theorizing, where it happens, is limited and does not connect to key
concepts in either educational, public sector or business leadership. Kagan
and Hallmark (2001) suggest that this may be because business leadership
theories do not work well in EC education, which is a position shared with
many educationalists in other sectors. The authors suggest a distinctive
collaborative approach to leadership in EC is required.

Interestingly, the literature on EC leadership also does not connect with
that on school leadership, where many parallels might be expected. This may
be because of sector differences or the complexity of the field of early years
education, which is characterized by a greater diversity of organizations and
institutions than the school sector. In the UK, early years provision includes:
day care centres; playgroups; nurseries; family centres; community nurseries;
KS1 and reception classes in schools (Alexander, 1995). Following the recent
introduction of a ‘National Childcare Strategy’ and the setting up of local
‘Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships’ (EYDCPs), and the
establishment of the Early Excellence Centre programme and Sure Start projects
with integrated approaches to early education and care, the picture in England
has become considerably more complex and the need for effective leadership
even greater. Suffice it to say that these settings often have contrasting
philosophies and ideals, as well as different structures, and are driven by
different inspection remits. Furthermore, many of the organizations involved
are smaller than a school, which once again raises quite different leadership

One interesting distinction between the field of early childhood education
and other fields in which leadership has been studied is the extent to which
women occupy leadership roles in EC, which contrasts with the business
world. This, according to Rodd (1999), is one explanation for the potential
aversion to leadership often found in the sector. Rodd suggests that many
women have problems identifying with the concept of and need for leadership


Muijs et al. research on leadership in early childhood

in the sector (Rodd, 1999). In addition, it is suggested that the leadership
styles used are very different from those used by male leaders. However, the
findings of recent studies offer no evidence of gender differences in leader-
ship style (Evetts, 1994; Coleman, 2001).

In summary, early childhood professionals are often engaged in activities
that demand leadership skills, such as decision making and goal setting (Rodd,
1997). However, the relative lack of research activity on leadership in the field
and by association the absence of leadership development programmes would
seem to be a major oversight given the growth and the importance of the EC

does leadership in EC matter?

Early childhood programmes have been found to be crucial to developing the
potential and raising the attainment of children, especially those from low SES
backgrounds. EC programmes have been found to have both short-term and
long-term benefits, such as higher academic achievement, lower levels of
grade retention, higher graduation rates and lower levels of delinquency later
in life (Stipek and Ogana, 2000).

The quality of the experience in EC programmes is also important. One
review highlighted that children who had attended higher quality early child-
hood centres showed better academic outcomes, more positive student–teacher
relationships, better behaviour and better social skills (Stipek and Ogana, 2000).
A key element of quality EC provision was identified as leadership (alongside
factors such as creating a language-rich environment, sensitive teachers,
child-focused communication with the child’s home, higher levels of teacher/
carer education, smaller child/adult ratios and lower staff turnover) (Stipek and
Ogana, 2000). Other studies have similarly found leadership to be a key ele-
ment of the quality of early childhood programmes (Hayden, 1997; Rodd, 1997).

One study looked at the relationship between organizational climate and job
satisfaction. Job satisfaction levels were higher in schools with an open
climate, characterized by a sense of belonging, opportunities to interact, auto-
nomy and upward influence (Bloom, 1997). In an Australian study (Hayden,
1997), a high quality work environment was found to be related to lower
levels of staff turnover, which in turn related to lower scores of children on
childhood development and social and emotional skills scales. These studies
tend to point towards the importance of leadership. A number of studies have
found that organizational climate is strongly influenced by quality of
leadership (Teddlie and Reynolds, 2000), while lower levels of staff turnover
have been found to be associated with involvement of staff in decision making
(Whelan, 1993).

In a US evaluation of more and less successful ‘Head Start’ programmes,

journal of early childhood research 2(2)


competent and stable leadership was found to exert a powerful influence on
the effectiveness of programme implementation. Leadership that was
committed, competent and respected was one of the main distinguishing
factors between the most and least successful programmes. Unsuccessful
programmes were characterized by less experienced leadership, leaders who
were: less skilful at training and supervising staff; less good at working with
schools and the community; and less involved and committed (Ramey et al.,
2000). Leaders’ experience has been related to centre quality in a number of
studies (Philips et al., 1987; Kontos and Fine, 1989), as has the education level
of directors (Bloom, 1992).

the roles of early childhood leaders

Much of the existing research in early childhood leadership has focused on the
roles of EC leaders. It is clear that leaders in EC have a multiplicity of roles
which are context specific (Bloom, 2000). One study (Rodd, 1997) of 79
managers (coordinator, manager or owner of an early childhood centre, head
or deputy of a school, or teacher responsible for reception) in early childhood
settings in the UK found that they identified the following management or
leadership roles as most common to their work:

• managing and supervising staff (34%);
• contact with parents and other professionals (22%);
• staff support and development (16%);
• managing the budget (11%); and
• coordinating role (11%).

Two things are striking about this list: one is the relatively low percentage of
activity for each area, and the second is the fact that most of these roles can
be described as focusing on maintenance rather than development. In other
words, there was more emphasis on management than leadership.

A number of different factors emerged from a collation of ‘leadership
stories’ from participants in the ‘Educational Leadership Project’, a project
designed to further leadership in early childhood centres in New Zealand.
Leadership was defined as: having a vision; being able to articulate this vision
in practice; strengthening links between the early years centre and the
community; developing a community of learners; community advocacy; and
giving children leadership (Hatherley and Lee, 2003).

Rodd (1999) describes the main elements of leadership in EC. It is notable
that as well as factors such as influencing the behaviour of staff, administering
programmes effectively, supervising staff and planning and implementing
change, there is a strong emphasis on working with parents and guiding them,
which is an emphasis that is particularly important in EC leadership.


Muijs et al. research on leadership in early childhood

Community aspects are also emphasized by Kagan and Hallmark, who
suggest that leadership in the early years can take the following forms:

• Community Leadership, which connects early childhood education to the
community through informing and constructing links among families,
services, resources and the public and private sectors.

• Pedagogical Leadership, forming a bridge between research and practice
through disseminating new information and shaping agendas.

• Administrative leadership, which includes financial and personnel

• Advocacy leadership, creating a long-term vision of the future of early
childhood education. This involves developing a good understanding of the
field, legislative processes and the media, as well as being a skilled

• Conceptual leadership, which conceptualises early childhood leadership
within the broader framework of social movements and change (Kagan and
Hallmark, 2001).

Kagan and Hallmark (2001) stress that these components may require
contrasting styles of leadership, and therefore in many cases different types of
leaders, as well as more training in these areas. It is clear that they see a
strong political role for leaders in the early childhood sector, and see
community leadership as a core competency. Mitchell (1989) goes as far as to
claim that to be effective, EC leaders need to focus on the entire family, rather
than just the child, as many parents increasingly need support due to
problems of poverty and family break-up. Parents need to be involved with
their children’s education through: the provision of social events; inviting
parents into classrooms; offering parent support groups; helping parents to
apply for social benefits; helping them arrange child care; and supporting
parental child care choices. This means that as well as being well trained in
EC and the more traditional aspects of organizational leadership and manage-
ment, they also need to be strong communicators with parents and be able to
liaise with a variety of organizations (Mitchell, 1989).

An important leadership role in EC lies in coordination between the various
actors, such as family, school and community, which need to work together
(often by creating integrated services) to maximize opportunities for all
children. According to one study (Kunesh and Farley, 1993), in order for an
integrated services approach to be effective, it needs to involve all actors, be
data-driven, and ensure risk-taking, visionary leadership that builds owner-
ship at all levels. Leaders in such an environment will need to be adept at
dealing with conflict and coordination. Nowhere is this more apparent than in
the multi-agency working of the English Sure Start projects. As part of an audit
of multi-agency working by Atkinson et al. (2001, 2002) that included a Sure

journal of early childhood research 2(2)


Start project as one of a number of case studies, a key factor in the success of
such work was found to be effective leadership. Having a person to lead or
drive the initiative forward and having a clear focus for multi-agency work,
shared aims and shared resources, were considered essential by many of the
participants interviewed, with leadership and drive and joint funding being
highlighted as particularly important where education, social services and
health services were working together.

One study in New Zealand found that managers were typically older and
had worked for longer in the organization than other staff (Croll 1993).
Another striking finding from this study was the relatively low level of higher
education qualifications, less than 3 percent having an MA (in fact, only 28%
claimed to have a BA degree). Indeed, the current UK Effective Provision of Pre-
School Education (EPPE) project in Technical Paper 6 (Sylva et al., 1999)
presents findings that show a strong relationship between the childcare/
education qualifications of the centre manager and the quality of provision in
the EPPE settings. This supports recent initiatives to ensure that those who
manage and lead early childhood settings should be trained teachers.

characteristics of effective EC leaders

Some research has been carried out into the characteristics of effective leaders
in EC, although more typically work in this area consists of purely normative
prescriptions that do not refer to empirical studies. There appear to be few
case studies of effective EC settings, or quantitative analyses of characteristics
set against effectiveness measures. The investigation of effective pedagogy
based on intensive case studies in effective early years settings selected from
the EPPE study (see, for example, Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002) did not consider
matters of leadership. These are clearly major weaknesses in the research
base in this area.

According to Bloom (2000) EC leaders need to be competent in three key

• knowledge, including group dynamics, organisational theory, child develop-
ment, and teaching strategies;

• skills, including technical, human and conceptual skills (e.g. budgeting);

• attitudes, including moral purpose.

Competencies therefore lie as much in specific early childhood factors as in
broader management and leadership knowledge and skills.

In interviews of 100 early childhood professionals, the following character-
istics were identified as key to being an effective leader in EC:

• being patient, warm and kind;


Muijs et al. research on leadership in early childhood

• being goal-oriented, using planning, assertiveness, vision, and confidence
(this was a change over earlier research, where these factors had not been

• having good working relationship with staff, who participate in leadership;

• being responsive to parents’ needs and able to communicate with them.

Interestingly, Rodd (1996) reported that the views of EC professionals had
moved towards more mainstream views of leadership compared to earlier
studies. However, they did not appear to see roles like research, marketing or
communicating with policymakers as part of their role, and did not have any
conception of risk taking, change management or the creation of professional
networks (Rodd, 1996).

In a study in New Zealand, managers were asked what skills they
considered important. The main factors to emerge from this study were: good
relationships with staff; a commitment to meeting organizational goals; a
commitment to fulfilling the roles of an early childhood professional; acknowl-
edging others’ strengths and weaknesses; a desire to extend their professional
knowledge; access to clearly defined roles and responsibilities; and respon-
siveness to the needs of parents. In addition, being visionary, coordinating
and motivating, and being able to make decisions were mentioned, although
leaders said they did not actually exercise these activities in practice, thus
highlighting a discrepancy between the leaders’ daily tasks that could be
described as largely managerial, and the leadership activities they thought
important (Bloom, 1997). The issue of relationships and communication with
staff was also highlighted in this study where it was found that managers
believed they had provided staff with a great deal of feedback, a feeling that
was not reciprocated by staff.

A recent study highlighted the fact that teachers wanted: their managers to
listen to them; to provide for the physical, emotional and social needs of the
organization; to give them the trust, time, tools and support needed to
succeed; have a vision which they stick to; and to share decision making
(Carter, 2000).

professional development and training

The lack of leadership development programmes is clearly a key issue in EC.
In contrast to their counterparts in primary and secondary schools, directors
have had plenty of opportunity in their training to become familiar with
issues of child development, assessment, classroom management and curricu-
lum design, but not with management or leadership (Freeman and Brown,

In one US study, for example, most of the 257 surveyed directors said they

journal of early childhood research 2(2)


had received no prior training on leadership and management before taking
on directorships, and 70 per cent felt ill prepared for the challenges that
awaited them (Bloom, 1997). Other US studies have also reported a lack of
training (Caruso, 1991). Similarly, many EC leaders in the UK have received
very little management training, usually limited to short courses, and in one
study described themselves as feeling uncomfortable with the professional
development aspects of their role (Rodd, 1997). Other problems encountered
were difficulties with interpersonal relationships, administration and decision
making. All leaders in this study mentioned lack of leadership training as a
problem for them. They felt that training was best provided once they were
doing the job, not beforehand. One Australian study found that only 44 per
cent of surveyed directors (N = 201) had taken any management subjects as
part of diploma or degree courses, while 49 per cent had done some INSET
training related to leadership and management (which was considered useful
by 70 per cent of that group) (Hayden, 1997). Of the total, 20 per cent felt they
were not really prepared at all. Directors felt they were least well prepared to
deal with administration and financial issues, staffing issues and workload,
and felt best prepared for teaching children and dealing with staff issues
(Hayden, 1997).

Another study asked experienced directors of early child care centres where
they had received their leadership and management training. It was found
that they tended to have taken up training in a disparate fashion, latching on
to opportunities where they appeared. Most commonly, they had taken part in
administration workshops at early childhood conferences, or participated in
training events outside the field of early childhood. As in the Rodd (1997)
study, directors claimed that they thought training was best delivered once
they were already working in the job, and were positive on the benefits of
training, seen as not only improving skills but also keeping them excited and
challenged. Peer support was seen as crucial to promoting growth and
maintaining motivation (Poster and Neugebauer, 1998).

Increasingly this lack of training has been acknowledged as specific training
programmes for EC leaders are currently being developed. However, at
present, most are small scale and localized and unlike the schools sector there
are no national training programmes. Where training is provided, effects appear
positive. One model that incorporated accreditation towards a nationally
recognized diploma and used a collegial training model resulted in increases
in leader knowledge and skills, and improvements in organizational climate
(Eisenberg and Rafanello, 1998). Another example given by Mitchell and
Serranen (2000), reports on a programme that developed learning commu-
nities (in seven school districts) for EC leaders, to help them deepen their
understanding of leadership and change management. Consultation and
follow-up were provided (Mitchell and Serranen, 2000). Twenty-two leaders


Muijs et al. research on leadership in early childhood

working in Head Start centres were enrolled in a 16-month leadership training
programme in the USA, which focused on: leadership styles; organizational
theory; legal and fiscal issues; relations with parents and the community;
child development; self-knowledge; research; and technology. A pre-post test
design was used to evaluate the programme. Analyses showed an improve-
ment in organizational climate, improved teaching quality and an improvement
in self-rated knowledge and competence following the training programme
(Bloom and Sheerer, 1992). In Rodd’s (1996) interviews of EC professionals in
Victoria, most felt that leadership training would be useful.

Research in other fields has highlighted that to be most effective, training
needs to be tailored to the needs of participants. One way to achieve this is to
link training to the career stage of the participants. The National College for
School Leadership has identified a five-stage school leadership framework
directly linked to career phase ( In terms of EC, Bloom (1997)
has similarly identified a three-phase model of career stages – as beginning,
competent and ‘master’ directors. Following the NCSL developmental frame-
work it would seem appropriate that at the beginning level, there should be a
dedicated programme focused on the basic elements of leadership and
management in EC delivered both on line and ‘face to face’. At the competent
level more differentiated programmes are needed, similar to those available
for aspiring heads and deputy heads in schools. At the master level,
programmes based on coaching and mentoring would seem most appropriate
with the emphasis on the transfer of knowledge and expertise (Bloom, 1997).


The main conclusions from this review are first, the paucity of high quality
research on leadership in EC. Second, in terms of the research that does exist,
it clearly points to the importance of leadership in EC, the complexity of the
role, and the need for more specific training and professional development.
The British Educational Research Association (BERA) ‘Early Years Special
Interest Group’ also recently noted the paucity of evidence about the relation
between adult training, professionalism and children’s learning, concluding
‘we are still trying to describe the field in its complexities’ (2003: 41).

The EC field is complex because of its diversity and scale but also because
of the strong advocacy and community roles required for leaders in early
childhood. This points towards more collaborative ways of working and lead-
ing. Indeed, Osgood and colleagues (Osgood and Sharp, 2000; Osgood and Stone,
2002; Osgood, 2003) have concluded that while early years practitioners are
committed to heightening their professionalism, the most appropriate means
of realizing this is not through increased entrepreneurial approaches in the state
and private sector but rather through collaborative, co-operative and community-

journal of early childhood research 2(2)


oriented lines. This calls out for more research and development work focused
on community leadership in EC, which currently is simply not available.

Clearly, recent theorizing in educational leadership per se has a lot to offer
the field of early childhood education. The concept of distributed leadership,
with its emphasis on increased capacity through shared leadership (Harris,
2004) is particularly relevant to a field that is diverse, complex and strongly
community related. One argument in favour of distributed leadership in early
childhood institutions concerns the need to empower those at different levels
within the sector, not simply those in senior positions (Rodgers, 2001).

In terms of future research activity, it would seem both important and
timely to try and explore what is meant by effective leadership in EC and by
association, how leaders could be equipped to be more effective. At present,
most studies have not done this, and the characteristics of effective leaders in
early childhood therefore require further investigation. Ramey et al. have
made some progress in this direction by identifying that effective EC leaders
are ‘committed, competent and respected’ (2000: 43). In contrast, weaker
leaders were seen as less skilful at training and supervising staff, less good at
working with schools and the community, and less involved and committed.
However, further research is needed to identify more precisely what it is that
effective EC leaders do and by association what leadership development is
required to maximize the effectiveness of all leaders in EC.

The future of EC looks very promising over the next decade. There is a
renewed emphasis on pre-school provision and EC programmes which is both
encouraging and entirely necessary, if some of the fundamental disadvantages
in society are to be successfully addressed. Given the centrality of EC in
government policy and its current high profile, it seems almost inconceivable
that the leadership practices of those working within EC are not being taken
seriously. Furthermore, unlike for those working in the mainstream school
sector there are no national training programmes focused either on manage-
ment or leadership. Taking what research indicates about the relationship
between leadership and positive organizational outcomes, this would seem to
be a most serious oversight for two reasons. First, because it leaves effective
leadership practice to chance and implies that there will inevitably be weak
leaders. Second, because it knowingly leaves those in leadership positions
unprepared for the significant management and leadership tasks they face on
a daily basis. These seem to be two compelling reasons for investing
substantially in leadership research and development for EC. All the evidence
suggests that this investment is long overdue.


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Muijs et al. research on leadership in early childhood

Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

Science as the center of a coherent, integrated early
childhood curriculum

Lucia French

Warner School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA


This article describes the ScienceStart! Curriculum, an early childhood curriculum that takes coherently organized
science content as the hub of an integrated approach. ScienceStart! maps onto the typical preschool day and may be
adapted for use in full-day or half-day preschool programs. It is designed to support the important developmental
achievements of the preschool years, particularly in the areas of language development, acquisition of preliteracy
skills, problem solving, social interaction, and self-regulation, for example planning and attention management.
Science content is highly engaging for young children because they are biologically prepared to learn about the
world around them. Within this context, they are capable of acquiring a rich knowledge base that supports the
acquisition of vocabulary and the use of higher order cognitive skills such as planning, predicting, and drawing
inferences. Engaging content also provides a setting for a variety of language and literacy-related activities such as
talking about activities, exchanging information, asking questions and planning how to answer them, reading aloud,
consulting books for information, making charts and graphs, dictating reports, and describing careful observations.
Each day’s science lesson is structured according to a simple cycle of scientific reasoning—reflect and ask, plan
and predict, act and observe, report and reflect. The daily science lesson is supported by literature that is read aloud,
by props included in the various learning centers, and by planned activities for art and outdoor play. Math and
social studies content is integrated into the science activities on a regular basis. Lessons are organized into four
modules, each of which lasts approximately 10–12 weeks. Within the modules, each lesson builds on the content
of previous lessons and provides a foundation for subsequent lessons. In addition to being highly engaged, socially
active, and rarely disruptive, children in ScienceStart! classes regularly show a significant gain of approximately
0.5 standard deviation on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, a standardized instrument that is commonly used
to assess young children’s cognitive and linguistic level and the impact of intervention programs geared to better
prepare preschoolers for academic success.
© 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: ScienceStart!; Coherent; Early childhood curriculum

E-mail address: (L. French).

0885-2006/$ – see front matter © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149 139

The ScienceStart! Curriculum is designed as a full-day, coherent, and integrated approach to early
childhood education. It was developed by the author, classroom teachers, doctoral students, and other
colleagues during the 6 years that we operated a demonstration early childhood program funded by Head
Start and the New York State Universal Pre-K program.1 Currently ScienceStart! is being implemented
in 37 classrooms in Rochester, New York and surrounding communities.

ScienceStart! takes preschoolers’ fascination with learning about the everyday world as the starting point
for planned/structured activities that are designed to foster critically important aspects of development in
the areas of language, early literacy, attention regulation, planning, and problem solving. The sustained,
coherent investigations of natural phenomena (for example, the study of color and light spans 10–14
weeks) leads to a rich knowledge base that can support higher order cognitive skills such as generalizing,
drawing deductive and inductive inferences, making comparisons, and posing/testing hypotheses.

1. General goals and purposes of the ScienceStart! Curriculum

The ScienceStart! Curriculum was designed with the goal of supporting developmental achievements
appropriate and central to the preschool years, including creation of a knowledge base about the everyday
world, development of skills needed to use language as a medium for conveying information, and a variety
of skills associated with self-regulation, including participation as a member of a peer group, attention
management, and planning/problem solving.

1.1. Why science?

Engaging children’s attention and participation is a critical first step in establishing a classroom envi-
ronment that supports children’s development and learning. Because science is so engaging for children,
it serves as an ideal content area for supporting children’s learning and development. We, and many of
the teachers we have worked with, have never seen anything—with the possible exception of being read
aloud to—that consistently engages young children’s interest and participation to the extent that science
activities do. Why would this be the case?

Infants and young children are biologically prepared and motivated to learn about the world around
them, just as they are biologically prepared and motivated to engage in social interactions, to learn to walk,
and to learn to talk. Personal experiences in the everyday world are the foundation for young children’s
development (French, 1985a, 1985b; Lucariello, Kyratzis, & Nelson, 1992; Nelson & Gruendel, 1981;
Nelson et al., 1986). From infancy, children process their representations of personal experience in
complex ways, creating “generalized event representations” (or “scripts”) that include information about
the temporal/causal structure of an event, its obligatory and optional components, and the associated roles

1 Seed money from Eastman Kodak’s ‘21st Century Learning Challenge’ and from Science Linkages in the Community (a
program sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) supported the initial development of the
science units. Subsequently, the parent outreach component of the curriculum was supported by Rochester Telephone Company
and two local foundations, Daisy Marquis Jones and Halcyon Hill. Extension of the program to family day care settings was
supported by the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation and the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Grants from the National
Science Foundation (# ESI-9911630) and from the US Department of Education (# S349A010171) are supporting preparation
of a written version of the curriculum, professional development, field testing across a variety of early childhood sites, and
assessment of child outcomes.

140 L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

and props (Nelson et al., 1986). These generalized mental representations of events are the foundation
for children’s understanding of and action within the everyday world. They enable children to recognize
regularities, to interpret their everyday experiences, to predict how and why people will behave in certain
ways, and to behave appropriately themselves.

Science is privileged as a content area in the preschool classroom because it fits so naturally with
young children’s natural way of processing experience and their inherent curiosity about the functioning
of the everyday world. Science activities that are exemplars of “how the world works,” (e.g., mixing
primary colors, creating shadows, trying to make a piece of clay float, or watching an earthworm crawl
through dirt) constitute “events” for the young child. During their first exposure to one of these events,
children may simply be interested and perhaps surprised. During the second exposure, they are creating a
richer representation of similarities and differences across the two experiences. After several exposures,
they have created a generalized understanding of that particular aspect of “how the world works” in that
particular situation and freely make predictions about “what will happen next” or “what will happen if
. . . .”

It is only gradually, and not until they are 4 or 5 years of age, that children can form mental representa-
tions (that is, learn) simply through being told about something (French, 1996; Nelson, 1996). Thus, until
relatively late in the preschool years, personal experience is the primary source for the child’s learning.
This personal experience results in mental representations that in turn provide the conceptual foundation
to support language development. During the preschool years, language input from an adult can help the
child acquire the linguistic means to represent and express their experientially based mental representa-
tions (e.g.,Macnamara, 1972) and children’s rich mental representations of situations can support their
acquisition of language to express themselves.

Children’s fascination with science activities supports their intellectual and linguistic development by
providing a context for hands-on, personal experience during which they form mental representations of
complex phenomena, process complex language, and attempt to communicate their understanding of the
experience to others. The ScienceStart! Curriculum is structured in such a way that children also learn a
systematic approach to posing questions and empirically exploring solutions to those questions.

1.2. Why a structured approach?

Children are naturally interested in learning about the everyday world and have a number of skills
for doing so independently. Those of us who developed the ScienceStart! Curriculum take it as a given
that children are active learners who construct knowledge through participation in hands-on experience.
However, we also believe that adult support can help children receive maximum benefit from their

ScienceStart! is build on an assumption that adult guidance can enrich children’s learning while building
on their considerable competence and motivation to learn about the everyday world. This generally
Vygotskian view holds that children learn through social interaction with more knowledgeable others
(e.g., Vygotsky, 1978). In ScienceStart! classrooms, adult guidance enhances children’s learning in a
variety of ways, including the deliberate sequencing of materials and activities, co-planning and pacing
of activities, scaffolding children’s enactment of activities, planful integration of a variety of ways to
explore a particular topic, and deliberately creating a language-rich classroom environment.

ScienceStart! is structured at multiple levels—the school year, each module and unit, a day’s leading
science activity, and all the other classroom activities undertaken on any given day.

L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149 141

• The first module of the year (measurement and mapping) introduces children to a variety of concepts
and skills that are important components of the scientific process. These include a four-step cycle of
scientific reasoning; use of both standard (rulers and tape measures) and non-standard (string) measures
of length; counting; conducting surveys; recording results in multiple ways including charts, graphs,
and direct displays; and creating or using a variety of different forms of representation, such as using
two dimensional pictures to label areas of the classroom, drawings, photographs, maps, lists, and so
forth. Subsequent modules build on these initial skills, culminating in an investigation of neighborhood
habitats that involves consideration of similarities and differences between plants and animals, growth
and change, the conditions plants and animals require for life, and considerable patience and regular
observation as eggs are hatched or flowers are grown.

• Unlike the approach taken in many preschools, ScienceStart! is coherent in that the leading science
activity of one day builds on the previous day’s science activity and provides a context and basis for
the next day’s science activity.

• The coherent units are structured across days so that children first engage in more exploratory activities,
then—after generating questions based on these activities—engage in activities that address these

• The individual activity featured on any given day is structured according to the cycle of scientific
reasoning. An approach of asking open-ended questions within a predictable framework allows children
to participate fully in the co-construction of an activity, while the adult retains responsibility for the
overall structure of the activity and for using language that introduces children to appropriate vocabulary
and that models conventional forms for asking, planning, describing, and explaining.

• ScienceStart! is integrated in that many ‘non-science’ activities each day are related in some way to
the leading science activity. At least one of the books that the teacher reads aloud each day is related
to the science activity. There are also relations between the science activity and activities in math and
social studies, in art and dramatics, in the reading/writing centers, and in one or more of the other
activity centers such as housekeeping, blocks, or manipulatives. This integration reflects the fact that
young children’s natural way of learning is holistic rather than artificially divided into work and play
or into academic categories. It allows children to experience the same ‘target’ concepts in a variety of
ways. This both reinforces the concept and honors the fact that different children have different learning
styles—for example, learning through narrative and dramatic play, through hands-on exploration, or
through large motor activities.

Adult guidance is apparent not only in the sequencing and combining of activities, but also in the
minute-by-minute creation of each day’s experiences. Although the ScienceStart! Curriculum can be
described as being highly organized, the teacher is (and must be!) able to improvise and expand depending
on the particular situation created by the students’ interests, prior knowledge, questions, and interactions
with one another. Within the overall structure of ScienceStart!, there is ample opportunity for the teacher
to introduce lessons and activities of her own and to follow children’s particular patterns of interest. There
is also ample opportunity for children to explore a given concept in a number of different ways and to
extend learning to independent activities.

Although preschoolers do not easily learn from decontextualized language input (e.g., lecture), adults’
use of language is a critically important component of both children’s intellectual development and their
language acquisition. Teachers’ language may structure investigations and may extend the children’s un-
derstanding of these investigations. Adult language provides vocabulary to describe the concepts emerging

142 L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

from these investigations and provides models for discourse functions such as describing and explaining.
Conversational exchanges in which adults respond to the questions and comments of individual children
are critical for enhancing the development of both receptive and expressive language skills.

In summary, the ScienceStart! Curriculum is highly structured in order to maximize benefit to children
in terms of positive, learning-centered interactions with adults. These benefits include the acquisition of
a rich knowledge base, scaffolded support in developing the problem solving skills of asking, planning,
observing and reporting, and involvement in contingent linguistic exchanges that support children in
learning vocabulary and appropriate discourse forms for talking about their investigations of the everyday
world. Opportunities for open-ended investigations are built into the structure of ScienceStart! and the
teacher’s talk is designed to be interactive and related to hands-on explorations rather than didactic and

2. Implementation of ScienceStart!

The ScienceStart! Curriculum consists of four modules,2 each of which contains several units.3 Each unit
has a four-part structure, cycling through phases of exploration, asking questions, following the questions,
and a culminating activity. The unit begins with a series of activities, taking place over several days,
which involve open-ended investigation of materials and phenomena associated with the unit. Teachers
and children then talk about these explorations and generate other questions they would like to explore. A
series of activities addresses these questions.4 The unit ends with a culminating activity, a complex project
that “pulls together” the concepts explored in the unit and offers children a variety of different roles within
which to participate. Tie-dyeing tee shirts is an example of a possible culminating activity for a unit on
color mixing; planning and hosting a party to celebrate wind could be a culminating activity for a unit on air.

Each activity progresses through a four-part structure, which is derived from the cycle of scientific
reasoning. These include ‘Reflect and Ask,’ ‘Plan and Predict,’ ‘Act and Observe,’ and finally, ‘Report
and Reflect.’ The teacher typically leads the children through this cycle in the course of a single day.

The ScienceStart! approach maps readily onto the standard preschool day with a period for large group
discussion, large group book reading, small group center-based play, mealtime or snacks, outdoor play,
and a variety of forms of art and self-expression.5 Typically, the leading science activity of the day is
introduced during a large group meeting and begins with the teacher reading aloud a book that is related
to the day’s activity. For example, books such asLittle Blue, Little Yellow, or Mouse Paint might be used
to introduce the topic of color mixing. Discussion of the book leads into a discussion of the concept
underlying the activity of the day and the teacher leads the children in a discussion and activity that
move through the phases of the science cycle.Table 1describes in more detail how the cycle of scientific
reasoning might be enacted through the coordination of activity, open-ended questioning, description and

2 Measurement and mapping, color and light, properties of matter, neighborhood habitats.
3 The units for the properties of matter module include solids, liquids, gas, and change.
4 Of course, the teacher and children may generate questions that we did not anticipate when writing the curriculum; teachers

are encouraged to develop activities of their own and adapt activities in the curriculum in order to meet the needs of a particular
group of children. That said, the questions that children are likely to generate after the exploration phase are typically addressed
by activities presented in the next section of the curriculum.

5 The curriculum is used successfully in both half-day and full-day programs.

L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149 143

Table 1
Co-construction of science activities by the teacher and children

Ask and reflect
The cycle of inquiry begins with questions. “I wonder what would happen if. . . ?” “I wonder whether. . . ?”
All young children are curious about the world around them, but many preschoolers have not had much experience asking

questions (and talking in other ways) about their everyday experiences. They may need adult modeling and support for
awhile, but they will quickly learn how to ask open-ended, wondering questions.

Regardless of whether the teacher or child has provided a question, once it is ‘on the table’ it is time to reflect on what is
already known that might relate to the question. This is an opportunity for children to think and then to translate these
thoughts into language.

It might also be appropriate to consult text in order to learn more about the topic. The teacher can read aloud one or more
books about the topic. Listening to the teacher read aloud provides children with the opportunity to create mental
representations or knowledge from linguistic input. Children enjoy being read to under almost any circumstance, but
listening comprehension is greatly facilitated when they approach text with particular questions they want to answer.

Plan and predict
Once children have a question and have considered what related information they already know, it is time to plan how to

address the question. When we see people act, we usually don’t know whether or not they have a plan and are following it.
This is because planning usually takes place silently. To learn how to plan, children need to see other people planning. So,
it is important that teachers show children their planning process. The teacher can elicit a plan from children with careful
questioning or can propose plans herself for the children to evaluate. Again, this process involves translating back and
forth between linguistic representations and mental representations.

Once a plan has been formulated, predictions need to be made about what the outcome will be. Different children will have
different predictions. The teacher needs to elicit these predictions in a way that helps children think carefully but that does
not make them worry about whether they are correct or wrong.

One of the most important functions of language is ‘displaced reference,’ that is, the ability to use language to refer to the
future or past or to things that are in other locations. Planning and predicting both involve displaced reference. Practice in
this type of language increases children’s discourse competence and better prepares them for the language demands they
will encounter later in school.

Act and observe
Finally, it is time to put a plan into action. This is the hands-on part that children enjoy so much. Once a plan has been

carried out, it is time to observe the results of the action and to compare what actually happened to the predictions. Again,
there are opportunities for expressive language (describing what happened, describing the match between prediction and
finding) and for receptive language (listening to other participants’ descriptions, listening carefully to the adult’s
questions). Children learn to make and evaluate explanations.

Report and reflect
Sharing observations with others is an important part of the scientific cycle. There are many different types of reports.

Children can tell someone about their findings, they can dictate text about their findings (individually or as a group), they
can draw or chart or graph their findings, and they can even put on a skit or create a song to display their findings. All
these forms of reporting involve authentic language and literacy opportunities.

The cycle can begin again with reflections—led by the adult or the children—on what was just learned and what new
questions it leads to.

Following large group time, children move into small group choice time. Direct exploration of the
science activity is available as one of the choices, typically with adult support. Also, the general concept
underlying the activity may be instantiated in other activity centers. To again take color mixing as an
example, the adult-supported activity might be mixing primary colors of playdough to create a multicol-
ored rainbow. In another part of the classroom, the children might find paint in two primary colors at the
easel (possibly the teacher will have provided an example of various shades of the resulting secondary

144 L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

color). Net fabric in primary colors in the housekeeping area could be layered to create capes or aprons
in secondary colors. Outdoor play might include an opportunity to spray paint a snow bank using (and
overlapping) primary colors. Throughout all these activities, adults in the classroom talk about the pro-
cess of mixing colors and ask questions to encourage children to think about the more general scientific
issues. For example, the teacher might ask whether the same two primary colors always create the same
secondary color (fostering the idea that ‘replicability’ is a key component of scientific investigations)
or might ask how various shades of the secondary color are made (providing an experiential basis for
developing the concept of ‘proportion’).

The reading center in the classroom is stocked with a variety of books relevant to the module being
studied and many of these are read aloud. A separate period each day is devoted to free reading. Looking
at books is also an option if children finish their lunch or snack before their peers.

The lesson template for each day consists of a ‘planning wheel’ suggesting children’s books that
teachers can read to support reflection on the topic of the day, vocabulary that they can introduce and
use while talking about the activity, and expressive and receptive language activities they can incorporate
into the day. The template also includes a description of ways of extending the concepts covered in the
leading activity into math, social studies, activity centers, outdoor play, and artistic expression.

3. Meeting standards and benchmarks

For each day’s lesson, the ScienceStart! Curriculum identifies the standards proposed by professional
organizations for language arts, mathematics, and science that are addressed by the activities covered in
the lesson template.

The ScienceStart! Curriculum offers early childhood teachers many opportunities to address the lan-
guage and literacy standards that are being developed at local, state, and national levels. Opportunities to
develop preliteracy skills through authentic practice are intrinsic to the ScienceStart! Curriculum. Read-
ing aloud as a means of introducing and reflecting on a topic is incorporated into every science activity.
Written records are made of predictions (for example, children’s names might be placed in two columns
indicating whether they think earthworms will prefer dry or damp paper towels). Findings may be reported
by individuals or the group at large, and may appear in a variety of formats, including drawings, charts,
graphs, and written reports. Teachers use language to co-construct the science cycle with the children.
During the writing of reports and predictions, there is ample opportunity to introduce children to letter
names and to metalinguistic vocabulary such as “letter,” “word,” and “sentence” within the context of
authentic literacy activities.

ScienceStart! is closely aligned with theBenchmarks for Science Literacy proposed by theAmerican
Association for the Advancement of Science (1993). These benchmarks are formulated as a set of general
principles that students should know and things they should be able to do by specific grade levels.
Benchmarks are not provided for preschoolers, but it is possible to extrapolate from the benchmarks for
K-2 to make assumptions about the types of science activities that would be developmentally appropriate
at the Pre-K level. Examples of general benchmarks that are met by the ScienceStart! Curriculum include
knowing that:

• People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes
they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens. (p. 10)

L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149 145

• Tools such as thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, or balances often give more information about things
than can be obtained by just observing things without their help. (p. 10)

• Describing things as accurately as possible is important in science because it enables people to compare
their observations with those of others. (p. 10)

• When people give different descriptions of the same thing, it is usually a good idea to make some fresh
observations instead of just arguing about who is right. (p. 10)

• When a science investigation is done the way it was done before, we expect to get a very similar result.
(p. 16)

• Science investigations generally work the same way in different places. (p. 16)
A review of the AAAS Benchmarks indicated that the ScienceStart! Curriculum introduces preschoolers

to approximately 70% of the 124 discrete concepts covered by the benchmarks for children in the K-2
range. Children in ScienceStart! classrooms address these concepts at their own developmental level, in
ways that have intellectual integrity.

4. Outcomes in classrooms that have used the ScienceStart! Curriculum

4.1. Teacher impressions

Teachers are enthusiastic about using the ScienceStart! Curriculum. In conversations and interviews,
they report that when they implement ScienceStart!, children become more engaged, talk and partici-
pate more, and learn more. They report a corresponding decrease in misbehavior and inattentiveness.
One veteran teacher described how the children responded to one another’s suggestions and predic-
tions during large group presentation of an activity, and contrasted this with what she had observed in
other years—children responding to the teacher but not to one another during large group discussion.
Teachers sometimes indicate that they are surprised by how much the children can learn and they are es-
pecially impressed with the children’s acquisition, retention, and generalization of vocabulary that might
be considered to be advanced for preschoolers. For example, at snack time in one classroom, a dispute
emerged among several children as to whether colorless Jell-O was “transparent” or “translucent” (see
Jacobson, 2002). Children readily transfer what they learn in ScienceStart! across time and contexts. For
example, weeks after investigating color mixing, children in one classroom were singing a song about
class-members’ clothing, as in “Mary has a red dress on, a red dress on, a red dress on.” When the teacher
chanted, “Bobby has a green shirt on, a green shirt on. . . ” another child interrupted to say, “Green is not
a primary color.”

4.2. Parent impressions

Parents are also impressed by their children’s growing vocabulary and by how the curriculum impacts
the things their children notice and talk about outside of school. Many parents comment that their children
continually talk about whether the colors they see around them are primary or secondary. One mother
reported that while playing in the back yard, her 3-year-old son asked, “What do you think would happen
if we put water in this dirt? What do you think we will get?” These questions reflect that this young child
has internalized a portion of the science cycle and transferred it to a situation outside the classroom. As

146 L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

numerous investigations have shown, transfer of learning outside the classroom and across contexts is
infrequent in academic settings (e.g.,Bruer, 1994).

4.3. Narrative assessments

Children in ScienceStart! classrooms are regularly evaluated for their mastery of science content in
the areas of color, shadow, and air using narrative assessments. These are constructed as storybooks that
feature Curi the Curious Bear. In each story, Curi has a problem that can be solved by science knowledge.
While trying to solve the problem, Curi seeks help from her classroom friends. Curi’s questions to her
friends become the prompts for the child who is being assessed and the child answers the question before
the reading of the story continues.

One story begins with Curi noticing a rainbow on the way to school, and deciding she would like to
paint one at school. When she gets to the easel, there are only three colors of paint—red, yellow, and
blue. What should Curi do? When pre-tested, many Head Start children gave reasonable answers—ask
the teacher for more paint, look in the storage cupboard, go to the store and buy more colors. When
post-tested after the unit on color mixing, these same children indicated that Curi could make all the
colors she needed from the three colors she already had.

Across the three units for which we have developed narrative assessments, there have been statistically
significant increases from the pre-test to the post-test, indicating that children learn the science concepts
the ScienceStart! Curriculum emphasizes. Finding that children have learned what they have been taught is
certainly not unexpected, but it emphasizes again that many general academic delays displayed by children
from low-income populations most likely arise from lack of exposure/experience. The preschoolers from
low-income families who have participated in ScienceStart! over the past 8 years are highly capable of
learning a great deal through participation in age-appropriate, language-rich experiences.

4.4. Standardized measures

Between 1995 and 2001, six cohorts (totaling 195 children) attending the demonstration Head Start
program site where ScienceStart! was developed were assessed on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
(PPVT) at the beginning and end of the academic year. Over the 7-month period between initial and final
assessment, the mean standard score rose from 79 to 87 (P < 0.001), a substantial gain on a test that is standardized such that scores are not expected to change over time. Comparable gains in receptive vocabulary have been seen in other programs that have adapted the ScienceStart! Curriculum.

In one state funded pre-K program for low-income children, eight children participating in the Sci-
enceStart! program were assessed twice using the PPVT-III. During the six months between the initial
and final administration of the test, the children made 15 months’ gain (gains in mean standard scores
from 84 to 96).

Another assessment of ScienceStart! using the PPVT-III was undertaken in an inner-ring suburb.
All children attending Universal Pre-K6 classrooms were assessed in the 2000–2001 and 2001–2002
academic years. There were three teachers who taught morning and afternoon classes each year. One
teacher used the ScienceStart! Curriculum and the other two took an eclectic, developmentally appropriate

6 Universal Pre-K is funded by New York State to support early childhood programs in districts with a relatively high incidence
of poverty.

L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149 147

approach. Across years, of the 162 children who completed both the pre- and post-test, 61 attended the
ScienceStart! classes and 101 were in the control group. Children were assessed near the beginning and
end of the school year. The standard scores from the pre- and post-tests were analyzed using a 2 (time
of testing)× 2 (curriculum condition) repeated measures ANOVA (scores were combined for the two
academic years). This analysis showed a significant main effect for time of testing,F(1, 160) = 10.761,
P < 0.001, a significant main effect for condition,F(1, 160) = 7.374, P < 0.01, and a significant interaction between time of testing and condition,F(1, 160) = 20.022,P < 0.0001. Follow-upt-tests to explore the interaction showed that there was no difference between the ScienceStart! and control groups on the pre-test (mean standard scores of 102 and 101, respectively,t(1, 160) = 0.453, P = 0.651). In contrast, there was a significant difference in the two groups’ performance on the post-test, with children in the ScienceStart! classrooms receiving a mean standard score of 109 and those in the non-ScienceStart! classrooms receiving a mean standard score of 100 (t(1, 160) = 4.68, P < 0.0001). While these data cannot be considered definitive because of a confounding of teacher and condition, they are in accord with the hypothesis that the ScienceStart! curriculum leads to measurable improvements in children’s language skills.

5. Conclusions and questions for further research

The experience of implementing ScienceStart! in a number of preschool classrooms has shown that
a focused and structured approach to science instruction at the preschool level is possible and can lead
to enhanced knowledge about the surrounding world, internalization of a systematic approach to asking
and answering questions about “how the world works,” and enhanced development in the critical areas
of language and early literacy.

Preschool children undergo rapid intellectual and linguistic development. Much of this development
is powered by cognitive processes that operate continually and without conscious effort or awareness on
the part of the child. However, for these cognitive processes to yield optimal development in cognitive
and linguistic realms, children need to be immersed in an environment that is both experience-rich and
language-rich. An experience-rich environment fuels development by providing events and materials
that can be comprehended, represented, and further processed by the child, extensive opportunities for
self-directed exploration, and adult support in interpreting experience. A language-rich environment
include ample opportunities for authentic communication with adults and the adults’ use of language that
is highly redundant with the experiential environment in order to support children’s acquisition of both
the meaning and pragmatic functions of the language.

Well-developed language ability is essential for children to learn to read and to acquire content knowl-
edge through listening to their teachers. Many children do not acquire enough language in their everyday
environment to successfully meet the demands of an academic environment. They may come from homes
where parents do not talk much with them (e.g.,Hart & Risley, 1995) and then attend daycare programs
where the providers also do not talk much with them (Dickinson, 1991, 2001).

As increasing numbers of children spend the majority of their waking hours in daycare and preschool,
these programs are being asked to take on a role quite different from the custodial role they assumed 20
years ago. Policymakers explicitly call for childcare programs to help children achieve “school readiness.”
However, underlying this call for promoting school readiness is a need for programs to assume a primary
role in supporting those developmental achievements central to the preschool years, including language

148 L. French / Early Childhood Research Quarterly 19 (2004) 138–149

development, social skills, and a rich knowledge base about the everyday world. When early childhood
environments are the location where most of a child’s learning and development takes place, it becomes
essential that these environments be designed with close attention to children’s developmental needs.

The ScienceStart! Curriculum has been created to meet the need for developmentally appropriate and
effective preschool programs. It was developed in accord with what is known about young children’s
developmental strengths and limitations during the early childhood years. Particular attention was given
to Piaget’s emphasis on the child’s construction of knowledge, Vygotsky’s emphasis on the role that
supportive adults play in children’s learning and development, and contemporary learning theorists’
emphasis on the importance, for genuine learning, of self-directed activity toward personally meaningful
goals (e.g.,Brown, 1997).

In addition, ScienceStart! was designed to address the areas about which teachers and policymakers
express concern regarding young children’s lack of preparedness for school success and those areas of
intellectual development that research has shown to be impacted by different home and child-care envi-
ronments. In particular, ScienceStart! places special emphasis on developing young children’s language
and literacy skills across a variety of discourse domains.

By emphasizing those features known to be essential for development during the early childhood years,
ScienceStart! was designed to be appropriate for all preschoolers, including—but by no means limited
to—those children living in poverty for whom compensatory programs have been designed in the past.

There is good reason to believe many of the academic and linguistic delays shown by children from
low-income families derive from the lack of broad-based experiences and that these experiences can be
recreated using a content-focused preschool curriculum that supports development rather than targeting
deficiencies. An important question for future research is whether an approach such as that instantiated in
ScienceStart! can serve the same purpose as that intended by “compensatory” programs (e.g., Head Start)
that target children who are considered to be at risk of school failure because of the array of circumstances
associated with growing up in poverty. Can a curriculum focused on creating a rich knowledge base and
problem-solving skills achieve comparable outcomes with relation to academic readiness as do interven-
tions and curricula that are focused more narrowly on teaching preliteracy skills and other precursors of
academic achievement? Those of us who have watched the implementation of ScienceStart! in Head Start
classrooms are optimistic that this will be the case and look forward to opportunities to carry out more
controlled comparisons of outcomes across various curricula for young children attending preschool.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993).Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University

Brown, A. L. (1997). Transforming schools into communities of thinking and learning about serious matters.American Psy-
chologist, 52(4), 399–413 (American Psychological Association, US).

Bruer, J. T. (1994). Classroom problems, school culture, and cognitive research. In K. McGilly (Ed.),Classroom lessons:
Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 273–290). Cambridge, MA: Bradford.

Dickinson, D. K. (1991). Teacher agenda and setting: Constraints on conversations in preschools. In A. McCabe & C. Peterson
(Eds.),Developing narrative structure (pp. 255–301). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Dickinson, D. K. (2001). Book reading in preschool classrooms: Is recommended practice common? In D. K. Dickinson & P. O.
Tabors (Eds.),Beginning literacy with language: Young children learning at home and school. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing

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French, L. A. (1985a). Real-world knowledge as the basis for social and cognitive development. In J. B. Pryor & J. D. Day
(Eds.),Social and developmental perspectives on social cognition (pp. 179–209). New York: Springer-Verlag.

French, L. A. (1985b). Children’s acquisition and understanding of relational terms. In S. A. Kuczaj & M. D. Barrett (Eds.),
Development of word meaning (pp. 303–338). New York: Springer-Verlag.

French, L. A. (1996). “I told you all about it, so don’t tell me you don’t know”: Two-year-olds and learning through language.
Young Children, 51(2), 17–20.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. (1995).Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul
H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Jacobson, L. (2002). The little scientists.Education Week, XXI, 33.
Lucariello, J., Kyratzis, A., & Nelson, K. (1992). Taxonomic knowledge: What kind and when?Child Development, 63(4),

Macnamara, J. (1972). Cognitive basis of language learning in infants.Psychological Review, 79, 1–13.
Nelson, K. (1996).Language in cognitive development: The emergence of the mediated mind. Cambridge University Press

(paperback 1998).
Nelson, K., et al. (1986).Event knowledge: Structure and function in development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Nelson, K., & Gruendel, J. M. (1981). Generalized event representations: Basic building blocks of cognitive development. In

M. E. Lamb & A. L. Brown (Eds.),Advances in developmental psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 131–158). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). In M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.),Mind in society: The development of

higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Science as the center of a coherent, integrated early childhood curriculum
  • General goals and purposes of the ScienceStart! Curriculum
    Why science?
    Why a structured approach?
    Implementation of ScienceStart!
    Meeting standards and benchmarks
    Outcomes in classrooms that have used the ScienceStart! Curriculum
    Teacher impressions
    Parent impressions
    Narrative assessments
    Standardized measures
    Conclusions and questions for further research

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Volume 4, Number 1, 2003


Early Childhood Education as an
Evolving ‘Community of Practice’ or
as Lived ‘Social Reproduction’:
researching the ‘taken-for-granted’

Monash University, Frankston, Australia

ABSTRACT Early childhood education within many English-speaking countries
has evolved routines, practices, rituals, artefacts, symbols, conventions, stories
and histories. In effect, practices have become traditions that have been named
and reified, evolving a specialist discourse. What has become valued within the
profession of early childhood education is essentially a Western view of
childhood. Documents abound with statements on what is constituted as ‘good’
practice or ‘quality’ practice or even ‘best’ practice. But for whom is this practice
best? This article examines early childhood education from a ‘communities of
practice’ perspective, drawing upon the work of Goncu, Rogoff and Wenger to
shed light on the levels of agency inherent in the profession.


… we must become reflective with regard to our own discourses of learning and to
their effects on the ways we design for learning. (Wenger, 1998, p. 9)

Early childhood education has developed a specialised discourse to allow
individuals within the profession to communicate effectively about all matters
associated with the design and implementation of learning programs for
children from birth to eight years. Yet have we locked ourselves into a self-
perpetuating set of values and practices that make it difficult to move thinking
forward? Have we positioned ourselves so strongly within the rhetoric of the
profession that it is difficult to introduce new ideas, or indeed, think of ‘other
ways of doing things’?

Our profession, with its own codes of practice, its own discourse and its
own theoretical perspectives, has built itself into an institution that has taken
on a life of its own. Anecdotal evidence suggests that our specialised field will



only allow newcomers in when they have mastered the language and have
understood the codes of practice. From time to time our profession has been
criticised for being ‘misunderstood’ or for being ‘precious’ or for grounding
itself in practices (e.g. ‘play-based programs’) that mean very little to anyone
outside of the profession. Indeed, it is difficult for anyone to communicate
effectively within the profession without the appropriate knowledge of the
discourse. Those who do not master the language of the practice are
positioned as ‘not being early childhood’.

It is timely that we critically examine our own profession and question
what we have inherited from our forebears, the histories that we re-enact with
each generation of early childhood teachers, and deconstruct the ‘taken-for-
granted’ practices that plague our field. The institution of early childhood
education is in need of close examination.

For the structure of human exchanges, there are precise foundations to be
discovered in the institutions we establish between ourselves and others;
institutions which implicate us in one another’s activity in such a way that, what
we have done together in the past, commits us to going on in a certain way in the
future. … The members of an institution need not necessarily have been its
originators; they may be second, third, fourth, etc. generation members having
‘inherited’ the institutions from their forebears. And this is an important point,
for although there may be an intentional structure to institutional activities,
practitioners of institutional forms need have no awareness at all of the reasons for
its structure – for them, it is just ‘the-way-things-are-done’. The reasons for the
institution having one form rather than another are buried in its history.
(Shotter, cited in Rogoff, 1990, p. 45)

The history we have inherited includes structures such as learning centres or
areas within a pre-school (e.g. block corner), beliefs such as child-centredness,
pedagogical practices such as play-based programs, adult–child interactional
patterns such as holding infants to face the adult for maximum
communication, and using active questioning with five year-olds to find out
what they know. However, are these taken-for-granted views and beliefs
about best practices in early childhood education relevant to all children from
all cultures (see Rogoff, 1990, 1998; Chavajay & Rogoff, 1999; Dahlberg et al,
1999; Goncu, 1999; Mosier & Rogoff, 2000; Mejia-Arauz, 2001)? Although
there are many areas that could be analysed, only four taken-for-granted
assumptions are considered in this article. They are:

• how is the child situated – inside of or external to the adult world?
• the orientation of children to learning;
• individual and social orientation;
• conversations as ‘add-ons’ or as part of the adult world.

Marilyn Fleer


How is the Child Situated: inside of or external to the adult world?

Many English-speaking countries take great pride in the richness of their
communities through their multicultural populations. Child-centredness, so
highly valued in Western countries and in early childhood education, can have
many different meanings. In Western communities children are placed central
to curriculum – their interests, their needs, and their perspectives are
privileged in program planning. This child-centred view is foregrounded in
most introductory early childhood textbooks (e.g. Arthur et al, 1996) and in
Australian curriculum documents (e.g. Department of Education and
Children’s Services, 1996; Queensland School Curriculum Council, 1998:
Australian Captital Territory Education and Community Services, 2001).

Yet consider the following, as noted by Rogoff (1990):

At home, young children in an age-segregated community such as the U.S. middle
class seldom have much chance to participate in the functioning of the household,
and may be segregated from human company by the provision of separate
bedrooms, security objects, and attractive toys. Middle-class infants are in the
usual situation (speaking in worldwide terms) of being entirely alone for as much
as 10 hours of a 21-hour day, managing as best they can to handle their hunger or
thirst with a bottle and their need for comforting with a pacifier or blanky or
teddy, and working, as Margaret Mead put it, to establish their independence in
the transitions to sleep and waking in the night and at naptime. (p. 124)

Rogoff (1990) argues that in Western communities, infants are not seen as
central to everyday life. They are positioned as ‘other’ to the day-to-day life of
families by being put into segregated spaces, and are given toys and materials
that do not relate to real-world activities. In creating child-centred programs in
our centres, we have further removed children from the day-to-day world and
placed them in an artificial world – one geared to their needs, where they are
central, but separated from the real world. We have created an artificial world
– with child-sized furniture and home equipment, materials such as thick paint
brushes, blocks and puzzles, and an outdoor area with carefully designed
climbing equipment for safety. These isolationalist practices are common in
most ‘Western’ communities and fit within the child-rearing practices found in
‘Western’ families for orienting children to their world (see Rogoff, 1990;
Goncu, 1999). This perspective contrasts strongly with what takes place in
some other cultures:

In societies in which children are integrated in adult activities, the children are
ensured a role in the action, at least as close observers. Children are present at
most events of interest in the community, from work to recreation to church. … As
infants, they are often carried wherever their mother or older siblings go, and as
young children they may do errands and roam the town in their free time,
watching whatever is going on. (Rogoff, 1990, p. 124)

In these communities children are situated within the family and community
as central beings. They are a part of all the activities of the community. They



witness what takes place, they interact with community experiences and they
are included within the day-to-day of the ‘adult world’. This approach to
situating children within the adult world does reveal the inadequacies of a
Western view of child-centredness. The child is already embedded within the
community. These communities do not have the need to artificially centre the
child to give importance to their role in the community – as many from the
‘West’ must do, since they already situate the child outside of the community.
‘Child embeddedness’ is a richer and more sophisticated concept than the term

By considering whether or not children are embedded within their
community, I examine more broadly the concept of child-centredness. In
drawing upon sociocultural theory, I go beyond examining the child as an
individual to consider the child as part of the cultural and community context
(see Rogoff, 1998, for personal plane of analysis, interpersonal plane of
analysis, and a community plane of analysis).

In recent research undertaken by Fleer & Williams-Kennedy (2002), the
embeddedness of the child within the community was also highlighted as
central to some Indigenous families within Australia.

We all grew up looking after each other. We like learning around our cultures
(Vicky). (Unpublished data)

My 17 year old son rang and asked to look after his sister’s new baby; come and
help care for the baby; he actually asked could he come up; men, including boys,
have a lot to do with babies, they are not afraid to carry newborns, they want to
play with them; you don’t see it as much in Western ways (Laura). (p. 50)

That is why everyone is responsible for children, including males, not just the
grandmothers and the aunties, but the males as well; except of course for
traditional ways, such as men’s business and women’s business (Najwa). (p. 50)

Some things we just live – and don’t realise it is different from other cultures
(Sharon). (p. 50)

The embeddedness of children within many Indigenous cultures within
Australia also highlights the shared responsibility for children across the
community. Learning is a shared responsibility located within real community
contexts featuring real situations. Children are a part of the adult world –
spaces and places are not created, but, rather, learning is viewed as embedded
in everyday activity.

In multicultural Australia, disrupting the creation of spaces and places for
learning, such as early childhood settings, is not possible or indeed necessary.
What is important is the reconsideration of the way we have organised the
spaces and the way we have created traditional areas such as the block corner,
the home corner or the outdoor area. Much recognition for new ways of
thinking about our early childhood centres has taken place in recent years as a
result of perspectives gained from Reggio Emilia (Edwards et al, 1998; Giudici

Marilyn Fleer


et al, 2001). Within this different cultural orientation to learning, there are
three important differences. Firstly, the boundary of the learning environment
extends well on into the community – indeed, the centres were created with a
community orientation in mind; secondly, the spaces within the centres do not
follow the traditional early childhood environment; and thirdly, the
equipment and materials available to children are real, representing what is
available in the adult world. Our Freobel inspired kindergartens have served a
useful purpose for many generations of children. It is timely that other ways of
thinking about and planning for children’s learning are needed – ways that
feature the diversity of cultures that represent Australia.

The Orientation of Children to Learning

One day when my eight-year-old daughter was watching some girls her age play a
game in the house where we were staying, she turned to the [Inuk] mother who
spoke English and said:

Anna: How do I play this game? Tell me what to do. What are the rules?
Inuk Mother: (gently) Watch them and you’ll see how it goes.
Anna: I don’t know how to learn by watching, can’t you tell me?
Inuk Mother: You’ll be able to know by watching.
(Crago, cited in Mejia-Arauz et al, 2001, p. 5)

Early childhood education is grounded in a belief that ‘doing’ is very
important. Contributions from Piaget, Montessori, Froebel and others have
instilled within our discourse the notion that learning occurs through the
manipulation of concrete materials. We organise environments so children can
choose materials and actively learn through blocks, construction kits, puzzles,
and dress-ups with miniature home equipment. In centre-based care, we find
the adult’s role involves a significant amount of talking to children as they
handle these materials. However, there is one interactional pattern that takes
on less importance, and that is the modelling by adults and the corresponding
observation by children. For example, in a recent study by Fleer & Richardson
(2003), an analysis of 12 months of documentation collected by early
childhood teachers indicated that staff recorded child behaviours in isolation
from adults. No teacher modelling was recorded and only a limited amount of
non-verbal interaction featured in the documentation. The traditional early
childhood practice of observing children had privileged an individual
orientation and did not include what adults were doing or saying.

However, as the teachers framed their observations from a sociocultural
perpsective (following professional development), they noted an increase in
observations featuring adult modelling, extensive interactions between staff
and children, and deliberate planning for working within the children’s zone of
proximal development. The reframing of staff perspectives in taking
observations of children allowed more non-verbal communication to feature.



Learning within an observational context was no longer silenced as teachers
were looking for and recording from a broader sociocultural pespective.

In many cultures adults and children learn by observation. In Rogoff’s
(1990) meta-analysis of the cross-cultural literature in this area, she stated:

the method of learning to use the foot loom in a weaving factory in Guatemala is
for the learner (an adult) to sit beside a skilled weaver for some weeks, simply
observing, asking no questions, and receiving no explanations. The learner may
fetch a spool of thread from time to time for the weaver, but does not begin to
weave until after weeks of observation, the learner feels competent to begin. At
that point, the apprentice has become a skilled weaver simply by watching and by
attending to whatever demonstration the experienced weaver has provided.
(p. 129)

For some Indigenous Australian children, learning by observation without
verbal explanation is also very important. For instance, in the following
excerpt Dujwandayngu discusses her role and other family members’ role in
an important Indigenous dance known as the ‘crow dance’.

That’s the crow dance; the children recognise the beat to the song – music is
sometimes like a role model, I just get up and dance; and they hear the music; they
identify the songs and the music with the dance (Dujwandayngu). (Fleer &
Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 35)

Auntie was showing the kids what to do (Dujwandayngu). (Fleer & Williams-
Kennedy, 2002, p. 35)

There wouldn’t be a lot of talking, but rather a lot of doing. It is interesting how
in school we do a lot of talking about it and less of the doing (Denise).
(unpublished data)

In their research, Fleer & Williams-Kennedy (2002) found that learning
through observation was an important learning tool for the Indigenous
families who participated in the study. The families had videotaped
observational learning and discussed their documented video-recording as
evidence of its importance, noting that ‘doing’ was more important than

Rogoff (1990) suggests that ‘Westerners’ view observation without
explanation as a passive activity:

Mainstream middle-class researchers, who rely less on observation, tend to think
of it as passive. However, it is clear that children and skilled adult observers are
very active in attending to what they watch. In the guided participation of
children in cultures that stress children’s responsibility for learning, children may
have the opportunity to observe and participate when ready in the skills of the
community and may develop impressive skills in observation, with less explicit
child-centred interaction to integrate the children into the activities of society.
(p. 129)

Marilyn Fleer


Since children are embedded within the community, they have numerous
opportunities to observe real-world activities that are important in that
community. As observers of ongoing and frequent community activities, they
have plenty of time to watch. They have many opportunities to participate in
aspects of community activity, and they have many family and community
members on hand to support their efforts. The full performance of the
community activity and the repetition of these performances provides time
and space for children to observe and develop observational skills (Collier,
1988; Briggs, 1991; Lipka, 1991; Stairs, 1991; Chavajay & Rogoff, 1999; Fleer &
Williams-Kennedy, 2002). In this way it is possible to see how observation is
not necessarily a passive and therefore less useful approach to learning for
young children. For some children, learning by observation is very important
in their culture. To foreground active exploration through activity and adult
narration would mean some children’s modes of learning are not catered for in
early childhood education – in effect they are silenced:

Understanding variations in cultural patterns for learning through observation
may be particularly important in improving the ability of schools to serve children
whose family and community backgrounds emphasise observational learning.
(Mejia-Arauz & Rogoff, 2001, p. 10)

At present there is a disjunction between children and communities who value
observation as a vehicle for learning, and the beliefs and practices in early
childhood education in many Western communities. In multicultural
Australia, privileging activity and narration in our early childhood settings
should be rethought and more diverse ways of learning should be
acknowledge and incorporated. We need to move from a ‘one approach to
learning model’, to a ‘many approaches to learning model’ in early childhood

Individual and Social Orientation

In the literature, autonomy (independence, personal agency, free will) and
responsibility (cooperation with a small group, interdependence) are often
treated as conflicting or even opposite (Mosier & Rogoff, 2000):

ethnographic research suggests that in some communities, the goal is autonomous
responsibility, in which individuals choose by their own will to cooperate with
others – a different concept than the polarity of freedom from others or obedience
to authority. Rather than autonomy and cooperation being in opposition,
autonomy with personal responsibility for decision making can be compatible with
values of interdepenence and cooperation among group members (Lamphere, 1977;
Oerter, Oerter, Agostiani, Kim & Wibowo, 1996; Paradise, 1994; White &
LeVine, 1986; Yau & Smetana, 1996) (p. 3)

Early childhood education has always been geared to focusing on the
individual child. We observe the child, we document what we observe (gather
data), we analyse that data and then we make inferences which inform our



planning for particular individuals. We have prided ourselves in concentrating
upon the individual (Arthur et al, 1996). Yet, not all communities value this
focus (Rogoff, 1990). For instance:

Marquesan (South Pacific) mothers actively arrange infants’ social interactions
with others; if babies appear to get self-absorbed, mothers interrupt and urge
attention to the broader social environment. (Rogoff, 1990, p. 133)


in Japan, autonomy and cooperation are compatible qualities that both fall under
the definition of the term, ‘sunao’. (Mosier & Rogoff, 2000, p. 4)

Fleer & Williams-Kennedy (2002) note in their research that some Indigenous
communities from Australia value a social orientation and find the individual
focus in schools and centres to be very difficult for their children. For example:

• sharing knowledge is not cheating;
• sacrificing praise from the teacher for their friend;
• catching up to where they are;
• working on your own means your failures are highlighted.

Sharing knowledge is not cheating:

I shared knowledge when I was at school and the teachers used to think that when
I used to help my cousin in the classroom that I was cheating. The teacher used to
think we were all cheating, just because we were all helping each other, but really
that’s a the cultural thing – if you know the answer then you really need to share
it; and it works in opposition to competition because the aim is for you to share
what you have got and not to keep it to yourself; see if you look at competition it is
an individualistic thing, you are really competing against other individuals; with
sharing, you are sharing with everybody, it is a different way of doing things
(Laura). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 31)

As represented in ‘Western’ education, an individualistic approach that
encourages children to become independent workers actively works against
the culture of some children. As such, thought needs to be given to fostering
interdependence among children.

Sacrificing praise from the teacher for their friend:

In school, children didn’t want to feel too different and didn’t want to not fit in;
they are so sensitive to another child’s needs; they look like they are sacrificing
praise from the teacher for their friend; our kids are so unselfish in that way
(Sharon). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 31)

‘Group membership’ is more highly valued than being ‘an individual’ for some
Indigenous communities in Australia. It is part of the basic fabric of early
childhood education to work with individual children’s sense of self and praise
their efforts in this process. Yet for some children, this works against the

Marilyn Fleer


importance they place on being a group member. Excelling above other group
members and having this highlighted by the teacher is culturally inappropriate
for some cultures in Australia.

Catching up to where they are:

The children need a quiet time to let the other child catch up to where they are.
Gail (child in school) worried about the other kids; but didn’t let anyone else know
that; she was beyond where they were; the teacher talked about how Gail helped
other kids (Laura). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 31)

Working on your own means your failures are highlighted:

If you put a child on their own, you focus on them; give them the attention; then
they succeed or fail; if they fail on their own you highlight that failure (Gloria).
(Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 28)

These perspectives challenge our basic assumption that we should focus on
the individual. Many of our interactional patterns in early childhood are tied
up with observing the individual and moving thinking and development
forward (Arthur et al, 1996). Yet for some children this effort is misguided. Our
focus for these children should be how we can build upon the interdependence
and social obligation that has been developed so thoughtfully in these
communities. For example:

In everyday activities, (Marquesan) babies are usually held facing outward and
encouraged to interact with and attend to others (especially slightly older siblings)
instead of interacting with their mothers. (Rogoff, 1990, p. 133)

The child-rearing practices of Marquesan families contrast with those espoused
within many Western communities. Most child development books and
curriculum documentation directed to carers who are working with infants in
many English-speaking countries promote the view that babies should be held
facing the adult who is holding them. This would be deemed as very
important and an appropriate practice for communicating effectively and
responding appropriately to infants (e.g. Fleer & Linke, 2002). Yet this
approach to adult–infant interaction is based upon a belief that an individual
orientation is important (Rogoff, 1990), whilst for Marquesan families being
oriented toward the group is more important.

The importance of community and family in some Indigenous cultures
in Australia is also important. For instance, Fleer & Williams-Kennedy (2002)
noted in their research that when family and community participants viewed
the video data gathered by each family, notions of interdependence emerged:

I was thinking … ‘that is someone’s mum …’. We say it all the time, when we
talk about someone, we talk about their relationship to someone else. We don’t
speak the name, but rather the relationship (Denise). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy,
2002, p. 20)



They use their skin names too. Not just your name – English name, but where you
from? If it is a black fella we ask you, and you talk about where you are from –
rather than using the English name. You make a connection straight off. We may
say ‘We know all your mob’ (Sharon). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 20)

Family relationship is not immediately obvious, but all of them [shows with arm
movement] are related. Sometimes we don’t know the kid’s name, but we all know
the family – that’s so and so, you don’t need the name, but you need the
connection. But as a teacher you need the name for the role! (Denise). (Fleer &
Williams-Kennedy, 2002, p. 20)

These statements are more easily understood when consideration is given to
the fact that in some Indigenous communities, babies, toddlers and young
children sit on an adult’s knee or in their arms in the outdoor environment for
long periods of time watching all the community and family members walk by
and be told about their relationship to each one.

There is a growing body of literature that is beginning to question
whether ‘Western’ early childhood assumptions should be viewed as universal
(Dahlberg et al, 1999). In deconstructing assumptions in early childhood
education, how do we reconstruct in ways that reflect the diversity of
multicultural Australia? How can we change our orientation from an
individualistic perspective to a more socially focused view? Changing early
childhood discourse so that it is more inclusive of other world-views is an
important beginning point. For instance, talking about planning for individuals
should also be accompanied by planning for interdependence. We could begin
by reappraising written material such as: central curriculum, state-based
curriculum, national accreditation documentation, early childhood textbooks
for graduate and undergraduate students, licensing requirements and
legislation documentation, teacher handbooks, centre and department
websites, teacher education course material, centre policy statements,
professional associations documents – these are but a few of the commonly
available materials that all privilege an individual orientation in Australia
today. In order to change public documentation to be more inclusive in its
language, many conversations are needed. These conversations provide the
beginning point for examining issues of diversity at a fundamental rather than
a superficial level.

Conversations as ‘Add-ons’ or as Part of the Real World?

If we go back to earlier arguments about how many Western families isolate
their infants by placing them into their own bedroom, in their own cot and
provide them with pacifiers, we can see that it is necessary to organise
‘conversational opportunities’ during wakeful periods. If we now also consider
how the child is generally not part of the adult world – but, rather, a child’s
world with toys and friends is created, we can see how as children grow older

Marilyn Fleer


further ‘conversational opportunities’ must also be created. Rogoff (1990) has
suggested that:

In cultures that adapt situations to children (as in middle-class U.S. families),
caregivers simplify their talk, negotiate meaning with children, cooperate with
them in building propositions, and respond to their verbal and nonverbal
initiations. (p. 123)

As part of creating these conversational opportunities, particular
conversational genres are produced. One of the distinctive features of these
interactional patterns is the use of questioning. These conversational patterns
tend to be mirrored in many early childhood centres and schools. For instance,
many early childhood teachers (see Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002):

• ask questions about things to which they already know the answers;
• ask questions to find out what you know;
• ask questions to keep the conversation going;
• ask questions as a social greeting (e.g. how are you?);
• ask questions when they really don’t want an answer (rhetorical questions);
• use questioning as a link between ideas and activities in the classroom or

• use questioning as a control technique;
• use a variety of question types – (e.g. why, when, how, who); and
• expect children to ask questions and to know how to do this.

The last point reflects a belief that all children learn these conversational
patterns in their home or community prior to beginning early childhood
education. However, conversational patterns do not necessarily evolve in this
way for all children (Goncu, 1999). As Rogoff (1990) stated:

In cultures that adapt children to the normal situations of the society (as in Kaluli
New Guinea and Samoan families), caregivers model unsimplified utterances for
children to repeat to a third party, direct them to notice others, and build
interaction around circumstances to which the caregivers wish the children to
respond. (p. 123)

In Australia, some Indigenous people have challenged the use of questioning
as part of the conversational genre valued in early childhood education. For

My grandmother she believes you don’t ask questions, you should just watch and
listen. In some communities you only watch and listen. In some communities it is
bad manners to ask too many questions. I was always taught by my grandmother
that you don’t ask questions, you watch and you learn; you don’t question things;
copying rather than asking questions (Laura). (Fleer & Williams-Kennedy, 2002,
p. 57)

The privileging of a question-based pattern of interaction in early childhood
centres and schools has meant that some children are faced with the task of



not just learning the content, but also the codes for participating effectively in
the learning practices to have access to the content. Vicky explains:

When I was at school, I didn’t learn the things I wanted to learn because I was too
afraid to ask the questions or didn’t know the questions to ask. I never learnt the
things I wanted to know; if I was worried about spelling or reading or something
like that, I never asked or questioned as a child; so I want Gregory [five year old
son] to be able to learn things by asking questions (Vicky). (Fleer & Williams-
Kennedy, 2002, p. 57)

Hill et al (1998), in citing Delpit (1988), demonstrate the importance of not
only making these schooling processes explicit, but actively teaching them:

good intentions about diversity are not enough. Being nice, warm and friendly can
lead to a lack of challenging standards and a lowering of expectations. Teachers
have the responsibility to teach the codes needed to participate fully in mainstream
life. Delpit (1988) states that all students must be taught the codes needed to
participate fully in mainstream life, not by being forced to do mundane pointless
exercises but in meaningful endeavours. They need access to teachers’ expert
knowledge of the conventions of the written code which are just that, conventions
which have developed originally in an arbitrary way to record meaning. While
acknowledging the expert knowledge of the teacher, the expert knowledge of the
learner must be acknowledged as well. (pp. 29-30)

Consequently, it needs to be acknowledged that the question-and-answer
genre evident in many Western early childhood education communities is
being privileged. It is one of the taken-for-granted practices in Australian
centres – yet not all children have prior experiences of this genre in their
community or family. Acknowledging and making explicit this type of
interactional pattern is important in an Australian multicultural community.
We can no longer assume that the taken-for-granted practice of asking
questions should be privileged. Being aware of the particular interactional style
normally exhibited by the teacher is the first step to realising inclusivity. The
second step is to think beyond one interactional style and begin to develop a
range of ways of interacting – a diversity of ways that reflect the diversity of
the children. Privileging one way of interacting in effect silences other ways of

Maintaining the Status Quo or
Moving Early Childhood Education Forward?

In many English-speaking countries, early childhood education has developed
routines, practices, rituals, artefacts, symbols, conventions, stories and
histories. Many of our taken-for-granted practices have become traditions.
Wenger (1998) used the term ‘reified’ to explain how these traditional
practices become named, and a specialist and truncated discourse emerges. Yet

Marilyn Fleer


what has become valued within the profession of early childhood education is
essentially a ‘Western’ view of childhood. We have assumed that:

• notions of high quality ‘Western’ interactional patterns between adults and

infants are universal (that is, we all hold our babies to maximise adult–child
interaction) (Rogoff, 1990);

• the best way to learn is through activity and not sitting and watching – since
watching is considered a passive activity (Rogoff, 1998);

• question-asking by children and teachers is an important technique for
learning for children (Mejia-Arauz et al, 2001).

We have created educational outcomes for early childhood education based
on what has historically been perceived as needed for ‘Western’ children, such
as child-centredness, to compensate for the fact that infants and children are
not embedded within community practices. We have created conversational
opportunities and patterns of interaction, such as the use of questioning, to
compensate for children’s disembeddedness. We have channelled our efforts
and discourse into an individualistic framework at the expense of
interdependence, thus disenfranchising some children and positioning them as
failures when they do not succeed on their own. Our early childhood
‘community of practice’ that we have inherited from our forebears requires
some reanalysis.

Ironically, we can use the notion of ‘communities of practice’ as a vehicle
for this process of reanalysis since it is also a useful analytical tool.

For many of us, the concept of learning immediately conjures up images of
classrooms, training sessions, teachers, textbooks, homework, and exercises. Yet
in our experience, learning is an integral part of our everyday lives. It is part of
our participation in our communities and organisations. The problem is not
that we do not know this, but rather that we do not have very systematic
ways of talking about this familiar experience. (Wenger, 1998, p. 8; emphasis

Communities of practice as a theoretical tool help illuminate how the ‘taken-
for-grantedness’ of early childhood education takes place:

What is taken for granted fades into the background – but the tacit is no more
individual and natural than what we make explicit to each other. Common sense
is only commonsensical because it is sense held in common. Communities of
practice are the prime context in which we work out common sense through
mutual engagement. (Wenger, 1998, p. 47)

Meaning in communities of practice is possible only when ideas are jointly
understood and enacted within a particular community. Meaning does not
reside in an individual or even in printed matter, but, rather, meaning exists
through a dynamic process of living in the world. Early childhood curriculum
cannot exist unless a community gives it meaning and brings it into existence.
Wenger (1998) states that abstract ideas must become reified if they are to exist



and if they are to be useful tools in a community. For instance, he states that
we take an abstract idea such as ‘democracy’ and we concretise it by using the
symbol of the Statue of Liberty holding a set of scales. When something is
reified we are able to perceive its existence. For example, child-centredness has
been reified in early childhood education. In this process, child-centredness
develops an independent existence. It takes on the status of an object. We use
the reified idea as a tool that changes our experiences of the world.

Wenger (1998) warns that often the reification process results in slogans
– such as ‘Children learn through play’ – which simplify complex
understandings and hide broader meanings. As such, these terms become
embedded within our community of practice, transcending time and cultures,
forming part of our histories. For example, in thinking about children learning
through play, what sort of play are we talking about and what sort of learning
do we think happens? Have the reified ideas inherent in early childhood
education reduced our profession to a community of practice built upon many
slogans and with little capacity to reinvent itself? Have our reified and very
precious ideals masked their culture-specific beginnings? Can we think
differently about early childhood education and critically examine existing
reified cultural tools?

In order to move forward, we need to look back and analyse what we
have inherited. We also need to reify new cultural tools, such as child
embeddedness, and give these terms meaning so that we can think differently
and change our ‘community of practice’. When we do this, we see that we no
longer reproduce ourselves in the next generation of teachers, but, rather, we
speak openly about the cultural tools we are using and model the analysis
required to ensure that those tools are still appropriate for the next generation
of children attending our early childhood centres. In this sense we move
beyond social reproduction.

In this process, we need to give a voice to cultures other than those from
‘Western’ communities. Their voice will help our profession find, for those
from the ‘West’, ‘new’ terms and concepts. With these new cultural tools we
can think differently and begin to see other ways that early childhood can be
enacted, begin to acknowledge the diversity of approaches to learning that
children and their families bring with them to our centres, and demonstrate
movement beyond an ethnocentric perspective on early childhood education.
We can move beyond social reproduction to communities of practice that
reflect everyone’s practices.

Children’s personal and family histories of participation in different forms of
learning need to be recognised and understood in order to build on the children’s
familiar ways of learning. Teachers, and other adults whose aim is to foster
children’s learning can help children learn new ways of learning and also
strengthen familiar traditional ways, by recognising and adapting school practices
to cultural variations in the traditional modes of learning. (Mejia-Araz & Rogoff,
2001, p. 20)

Marilyn Fleer



Marilyn Fleer, Faculty of Education, Monash University,
Peninsula Campus, McMahons Road, Frankston, Victoria 3199,
Australia (


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The Early Childhood Educator Fall 2012 3


Pedagogical Narration: What’s It All About?
An Introduction to the Process of Using Pedagogical Narration in Practice

What is pedagogical narration? Why is it important? How do you

use it? How do you fit it into an already busy day? Kim Atkinson

addresses these questions with the hope that practitioners will

come to a better understanding of pedagogical narration and

how to incorporate it into practice.

* Note: Pedagogical narration is the term for this process adopted in British Columbia in the Early Learning Framework. Reggio
Emilia uses the term documentation and New Zealand refers to it as Learning Stories.

n my work with educators, both
those new in the field and those
with years of experience, there

is great interest in pedagogical nar-
ration* and what it can contribute
to enriching practice with chil-
dren, colleagues, and parents. The
philosophy of Reggio Emilia has
become influential and has inspired
educators to look at documentation
as a valuable tool for making learn-
ing visible. But there is uncertainty
about what to document, how to go
about it, and what its purpose is. The
barriers of too little time, limited
resources, technical challenges, and
the general busyness of a practitio-
ner’s day can be daunting. Add to
this an unclear understanding of
what can be gained from pedagogi-
cal narrations, and it seems just one
more thing added to an already long
list of tasks in a day.

In this article I bring my own expe-
rience of engaging with pedagogical
narrations in my preschool program
over a period of five years, begin-
ning with small photos pasted on
construction paper and progress-

ing to embedding narrations into
the culture of the preschool. I also
bring my experience of delivering
seminars to groups of educators
with my colleague Danielle Davis
through the Images of Learning
Project in which we meet with
hundreds of educators to share our
experiences. And I bring experi-
ence from my role as a pedagogical
facilitator, where I work alongside
educators in their centres to support
them in beginning to use pedagogi-
cal narrations. Throughout these
experiences I have encountered
uncertainties and struggles, as well
as the “Aha! moments” of learning
inherent in engaging with peda-
gogical narrations.

At its simplest, pedagogical narra-
tion is recording through photos,
video, or transcription the ordinary
moments of children’s play. It is a
tool that allows us to reflect on the
theories and strategies that children
develop, the way social relationships
are explored, and the constant pro-
cess of learning, of “making mean-
ing” that children undertake. In

examining these ordinary moments
we can see children as competent
and complex, as explorers of their
world. If we can observe and reflect
on children’s thinking, then we can
create meaningful opportunities
and experiences to support and
expand that thinking.

While my intention in this article is
to address questions surrounding
pedagogical narration, its imple-
mentation cannot be undertaken in
isolation. Rather it is just one part of
a shift in thinking about the image
of the child, the role of the educa-
tor, and how children construct

Critical reflection is a crucial step
in this shift. The BC Early Learning
Framework states: “Critical reflec-
tion is the art of thinking deeply
about our own fundamental beliefs,
with the goal of understanding the
various cultural and social forces
and factors that shape our own
sense of self – and then taking our
thinking one step further.” (Minis-
try of Education 2008, p. 11)

Thinking deeply requires us to con-
sider the image of the child we hold,
and our ideas about how children
learn. Currently developmental
theories of growth and learning
dominate our thinking. Devel-
opmentally Appropriate Practice
(DAP) is embedded in our thinking
and in our early childhood curricu-


4 The Early Childhood Educator Fall 2012


lum. As practitioners we plan our
programs accordingly, introducing
themes, activities, and materials that
correspond with our understanding
of what is best for children at each
stage of their growth and develop-
ment. The underlying assumption is
that we know what children need to
learn, when they need to learn, and
how they need to learn it.

However, scholars and practitioners
have recognized that developmental
theories are simply one lens through
which to view children and by em-
bracing other postmodern perspec-
tives we can “challenge common
knowledge and explore new view-
points and actions. (Government of
British Columbia 2008, p. 11)

Through careful and intentional
observation and critical reflection
educators can begin to see children
differently, as capable learners
who are continually constructing
knowledge and theories. Rather
than deciding what children “need”
to know, we can begin to see what
children already know. If we begin
to view children as competent and
capable, as continually researching
the world and how it works, then
new ways of being with children
emerge, new ways of thinking and
doing in our practice.

If we reframe how we see children,
we then need to reframe our role;
instead of transmitters of knowl-
edge, we become co-constructors
of knowledge. If we observe chil-
dren carefully and intentionally,
we can begin to ask different kinds
of questions about what we see.
For example, if we are observing
a child in a sandbox we might ask:
What does the child already know
about sand? What are they trying
to discover? What theories are they
developing? What experimentation

is going on with the sand, with the
shovel and with the bucket? What
relationships are being formed or

Creating a pedagogical narration is
a process to capture this ordinary
moment in a sandbox and make it
visible. Through the use of a camera,
a video camera, or note taking we
can record an ordinary moment,
begin to reflect on it, interpret it,
and consider what learning might
be taking place. By recording and
making visible an ordinary mo-
ment, we are listening intently to
what children are saying not only
with words, but also what they
are saying with their bodies, facial
expressions, and gestures. From
there, we can begin to invite ques-
tions about what children might be

Once that moment is recorded we
can then reflect on it, adding our
own thoughts and interpretation,
thinking about questions such as
how are the children using their
senses? How are they exploring
power? What theories are they
developing? How are they testing
those theories? What meaning did
this experience have for the child?
How is the child thinking through
the medium of sand?

But pedagogical narration is not a
solitary endeavour, nor is its aim
simply to show a progression in
a child’s learning. Putting photos
and children’s words on a bulletin
board is not a pedagogical narra-
tion. Pedagogical narrations must
be shared, discussed, reflected upon
with colleagues, with children and/
or parents. The purpose of narra-
tions must always be to open new
perspectives, to explore different
interpretations and ways of seeing.
For example, the child playing in

a corner of the sandbox might be
viewed by one person as lonely, us-
ing the sand toys in close proximity
to another child as a means of en-
tering into play. However another
person may disagree, observing
how two children make eye contact
and mimic each other’s movement
of shovelling sand into the buckets.
And a parent might add that their
child rarely sits in a sandbox at all,
adding yet another layer of ques-

Now this ordinary moment has
become richer, and our thinking
has expanded. New questions have
emerged, our assumptions have
been challenged. Collaborating with
others deepens our understanding
and reduces the objectivity of a
single viewpoint. It facilitates the
development of new ideas for future
planning, inspiring new provoca-
tions to extend the construction of

For if we are no longer transmitters
of knowledge but co-constructors
of knowledge, then we have a

By recognizing children as

capable and giving voice

to their ideas and opinions

about rules, the educator’s

role becomes more about

facilitation and less about

enforcement. This shift can

dramatically change our

relationship with children

and give educators more

time to engage and observe.

The Early Childhood Educator Fall 2012 5

responsibility to use the thinking
that emerges from the narration
to provoke further thinking. The
questions and theories that have
emerged can now be incorporated
into the narration, and we can plan
with these new questions in mind.
We might now be more attentive
to the social relationships of the
child in the sandbox: are non-verbal
connections being made with other
children? Does the child return to
the sandbox and if so what pulls him
there—the sand itself or the possi-
bility of a social connection? What
can we do to expand opportunities
for developing relationships? If it is
sand the child is exploring, how can
we expand on that experience?

In this way pedagogical narrations
begin to guide our curriculum. By
paying close attention, by listening
with intent,

we begin to see what

interests children have, and what
questions they

are asking. We value

children’s thinking, and we bring
our own questions, our own won-
derings. As we begin to think and
learn alongside children, in a “peda-
gogy of listening,” our relationship
with children changes, it becomes
more reciprocal. We listen without

judgment or preconceived plans,
open to other’s ideas, perceptions,
and possibilities.

By critically reflecting on our ob-
servations, by listening to children,
to colleagues, and to parents, we
can open ourselves to new plan-
ning, perhaps

rethinking schedules,

rules, and routines.

We can take
risks to try a new idea, expand on a
child’s question, and “think differ-
ently about what might be possible.”
(Government of British Columbia
2008, p. 22).

Getting Started with
Pedagagical Narrations

But how does an educator have
time to sit and take photos and
record dialogue among children?
How does this “listening” fit into an
already busy day?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer
to this question, nor is there a direct
path that offers a step-by-step pro-
gression of action. It is an individual
process with stops and starts, mo-
ments of clarity, and moments of

Here are some ideas to consider in
getting started:

Look at the environment. Simpli-
fying your environment can sim-
plify your day. Too many toys, too
much stuff can create a more chaotic
atmosphere and is much more work
to tidy up. Reducing clutter and re-
thinking how and where materials
are stored can help reduce the stress
of transitions.

Look at the schedule.Too many
transitions in a day can result in
feeling like you are constantly hur-
rying. A schedule that allows for
long uninterrupted periods of play
invites children to become more
deeply involved in their play and

their engagement with materials.
And it gives educators time to slow
down and observe.

Reflect on how you spend your
time. As educators we often get
caught up in monitoring behaviour,
reminding children about rules, and
giving instructions. Stepping away
from this role, rethinking the rules,
and reflecting on why those rules
are in place can move us away from
“policing.” By recognizing children
as capable and giving voice to their
ideas and opinions about rules, the
educator’s role becomes more about
facilitation and less about enforce-
ment. This shift can dramatically
change our relationship with chil-
dren and give educators more time
to engage and observe.

Be ready, be flexible. Getting into
the habit of doing pedagogical nar-
rations takes time. Having the cam-
era accessible (with a fully charged
battery!), having paper and pencil
at hand, or the video camera ready,
involves a new mindset. Noticing
ordinary moments, choosing what
to observe, and being there with the
right equipment takes practice.

Experiment. Test out a few ways
of recording, try different tech-
nologies, learn what works for you.
Experiment with photography ;
take close-ups of hands, faces, and
materials. Try different viewpoints;
use photos to tell a story. Take more
photos than you think you need—
you may be surprised at what you

Talk less. As ECEs we are trained
to ask open-ended questions, and
begin and extend conversations.
Try observing silently. Sit in a cor-
ner and simply watch and listen.
Children’s talk in play is different
than their talk in conversation with
an adult.


By paying close attention,

by listening with intent,

we begin to see what

interests children have,

and what questions they

are asking. We value

children’s thinking, and we

bring our own questions,

our own wonderings.

6 The Early Childhood Educator Fall 2012


Be patient with yourself. Engag-
ing with pedagogical narrations
takes time. It is an ongoing process
of recording, questioning, reflect-
ing, planning, and implementing,
and then beginning the process
again. The importance of a nar-
ration is not the finished piece;
in fact a piece should never be
considered complete. The value of
pedagogical narration is the ongo-
ing dialogue, the critical reflection,
the co-construction of theories,
and the professional growth. Don’t
be frustrated if you feel you aren’t
getting it right, there is no “right”
and there is no end to the process
of learning.

Start from where you are. Do what
you can now and take small steps.
Take some photos and go from

Involve colleagues. Engaging with
colleagues is critical. Engaging in a
dialogue about reflective practice,
about the process of creating peda-
gogical narrations, and about chal-
lenging our assumptions strength-
ens and enhances our thinking. It
can lead to disagreement, but also to
strong collegial relationships. Col-
leagues can be within or separate
from your workplace.

What Should Pedagogical
Narrations Look Like?

There are as many kinds of peda-
gogical narrations as there are prac-
titioners. There is no “right” way to
do a narration; however, there are
elements that distinguish a peda-
gogical narration from a display.

Pedagogical narrations invite diverse
perspectives by children, educators,
parents, and community members.
The intention is to open different
meanings, not to present a single
viewpoint. In other words, there is
no certainty or unified understand-
ing. Instead, there is an opening for

The purpose of pedagogical narra-
tion is to make learning visible, not
to record an event or series of events.
While the display should be pleasant
to view, it should also invite inquiry.
This is an important distinction and
impacts what a narration looks like.
Traditional bulletin board displays
that use borders and images pur-
chased from catalogues invite the
viewer to respond differently than a
bulletin board of photographs and/
or text on a plain black background.
In the first example, the message may
be that the display can be viewed
and understood quickly even from
a distance. In the second example
the message may be that the viewer
needs to come close and spend time
reading and reflecting. This is not
to say that narrations should always
be on black backgrounds or that
borders are bad, but to make the
point that the design of the narration
influences how it is interpreted.

Here are some points to consider as
you create a pedagogical narration:

Think about design. What do •
you want the viewer to see? How
can you best tell the story? Many
overlapping images, printed bor-

ders, and multiple colours likely
confuse the message.
Ask yourself, What is the learning •
I want to make visible? Focus on
some aspect of learning, not just
“what we did.” This may be the
child’s learning, or it may be your
own learning.
Think about moving away from •
and image of the child as cute
and moving towards competent.
Is this shift evident in your pre-
sentation of a narration?
A pedagogical narration asks •
questions and is reflective (e.g.
how does this moment challenge
preconceived assumptions? How
does my image of the child impact
how I view this moment? What
theories is the child/children
A narration may focus on pro-•
cesses rather than outcomes, it
may highlight thinking or rela-
tionships rather than a project.
As the creator of the narration, •
your voice is important. How
did you feel, were you surprised
or startled by something? Did
this moment make you feel un-
comfortable or did it give you
What happens next? Where are •
the next steps you might take to
expand on this moment? Can you
document more of this process?
How? Would a different medium
such as video or tape recording
be beneficial?

There are as many kinds

of narrations as there

are practitioners. There

is no “right” way to do a

pedagogical narration.

By critically reflecting

on our observations, by

listening to children, to

colleagues, and to parents,

we can open ourselves to

new planning, perhaps

rethinking schedules,
rules, and routines.

The Early Childhood Educator Fall 2012 7


I want to emphasize that this is by
no means a comprehensive or com-
plete description and I urge readers
to seek out further readings. What I
have presented here only scratches
the surface of the complexity, the
depth, and the possibilities that
engaging with pedagogical narra-
tion can evoke.

I also feel compelled to add a cau-
tion. As the ideas from Reggio
Emilia become more widely known
there is a danger of simplifying
pedagogical narrations and adding
them to the list of what consti-
tutes “best practice.” By creating
documentation and posting it up,
educators may feel they are now
“doing the right thing.” But simply
posting photos without going more
deeply into rethinking practice and
engaging in critical reflection en-
tirely misses the point. Pedagogical
narration is a process that should
continue to engage educators to
rethink and challenge assumptions,
to generate dialogue, and be a tool
for activism.

Engaging with pedagogical nar-
rations can lead into unexpected
terrain. Long-held beliefs come
into question, and familiar truths
we have held dear all our lives are
challenged. New theoretical lenses
unsettle our thoughts; the way we

practice day by day is challenged.
We feel we are standing on a preci-
pice of the unknown, uncertainty
is our constant companion. And
yet, taking the leap and embrac-
ing the uncertainty leads to a new
relationship with our work, with
children, with parents, and with
colleagues. It revitalizes practice as
we become researchers, continually
looking to grow our understand-
ing of children’s learning and how
we can expand their and our own
thinking. We become more engaged
as we redefine our role as educators,
redefine what knowledge is, and
what a school is. It is nothing less
than transformational.


Berger, I. (2010). Extending the notion
of pedagogical narration through Han-
nah Arendt’s political thought. In V. Pa-
cini-Ketchabaw (Ed.). Flows, Rhythms,
and Intensities of Early Childhood Edu-
cation Curriculum. (pp. 57–76). New
York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. R.
(1999). Beyond Quality in Early Child-
hood Education and Care: Postmodern
Perspectives. London: Falmer.

Government of British Columbia.
(2008). British Columbia Early Learn-
ing Framework. Victoria, BC: Ministry
of Education, Ministry of Health, Min-
istry of Children and Family Devel-
opment, and British Columbia Early
Learning Advisory Group.

Jones, L., Browne, K., Aitken, S., Keat-
ing, I., Hodson, E. (2005). Working
with Parents and Carers. In Jones, L.,
Holmes, R., Powel, J. Early Childhood
Studies: A Multiprofessional Perspective.
(pp. 65–73). Berkshire, England: Open
University Press, McGraw-Hill Educa-

Katz, Lilian G. Chard, Sylvia C. (1996).
The Contribution of Documentation to
the Quality of Early Childhood Educa-

tion. The Clearinghouse on Early Edu-
cation and Parenting (CEEP) April.

Kroeger, J., Cardy. (2006). Documen-
tation: A Hard to Reach Place. Early
Childhood Education Journal. Vol. 33,
No. 6.

Ministry of Education. (2008). Under-
standing the British Columbia Early
Learning Framework: From theory to
practice. Victoria, BC: Crown Pub-
lications, Queen’s Printer for British

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (Ed.) (2010).
Flows, Rhythms, and Intensities of Early
Childhood Education Curriculum. New
York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Rinaldi, C. (2006). In Dialogue with
Reggio Emilia. New York: Routledge.

Rinaldi, C. (2001). Documentation
and assessment: What is the relation-
ship? In C. Giudici, C. Rinaldi., & M.
Krechevsky (Eds.) Making Learning
Visible: Children as individual and group
learners. (pp. 78–90). Reggio Emilia,
Italy: Reggio Children.

Wien, C., Guyevskey, V., & Berdous-
sis, N. (2011). Learning to Document
in Reggio-inspired Education Early
Childhood. Research and Practice. Vol.
13, No. 2.

Kim Atkinson is an ECE and peda-
gogical facilitor for The Investigating
Quality Project at the University of
Victoria. She is also the co-coordina-
tor of the Images of Learning Project.

As soon as one no longer

thinks things as one

formerly thought them,

transformation becomes

very urgent, very difficult,

and quite possible.
—Foucault, 1988

Global Studies of Childhood
2017, Vol. 7(2) 113 –130

© The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2043610617703832

Children, myth and storytelling:
An Indigenous perspective

Gregory A Cajete
University of New Mexico, USA

This essay explores childhood education, storytelling, and the nature of myth from an Indigenous
perspective. Aspects of Indigenous teaching and learning are discussed related to the ways myth
and storytelling have traditionally functioned in Indigenous communities in the education of
children. The deeper psychological nature of myth as an integral part of human learning, teaching,
and socialization is also explored. These explorations form the basis for advocacy toward the re-
vitalization of story as an essential foundation for intergenerational community education and as
a component of global childhood education.

Community, culturally based education, global childhood education, Indigenous education,
Indigenous knowledge, myth, mythopoetic traditions, storytelling

Whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, they have chosen not
the facts in which the world abounds, but the myths of an immemorial imagination.

Campbell (1983).


In Indigenous community, all children were considered special, sacred gifts from the creator. They
were seen to have a special quality all their own which was respected and prized by the community.
They were considered to have a direct connection to special spirits in nature. They appeared as
special players in the guiding myths of some tribes. They were bringers of light and good fortune
to the community. Indeed, they were the physical example of the “vitality” of a tribe. They were
the carriers of the future (Cajete, 1994: 116–164).

Parenting was actively undertaken by all the adult members of a child’s extended family, clan,
and tribe. All adults were considered teachers and any adult member of a group could guide, dis-
cipline, or otherwise play a direct role in “educating” a child. Each adult was conditioned to care

Corresponding author:
Gregory A Cajete, 6074 Cottontail Rd. NE., Rio Rancho, NM 87144, USA.

703832GSC0010.1177/2043610617703832Global Studies of ChildhoodCajete


114 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

for the wellbeing of the group and each of its members. Each adult was admonished to concern
themselves with the development of each child into becoming a complete person, “for the good of
the people.”

Theory is a Western academic construct, and in this context, one may say that my theoretical
grounding is that of lived experience. This essay will present my perspectives as an Indigenous
educator growing up with stories in an Indigenous community. To remember is a way to re-know
and re-claim a part of our life. Remembering these kinds of stories is also a way of revitalizing the
experience of Indigenous education for youth in community. When we are growing up, we are
gifted with stories from our parents, our grandmothers, our grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and the
elders of our communities. As we become elders, it becomes our turn to retell the stories we have
heard and to create new ones. We find ourselves surrounded by children hungering for stories.
What shall we tell them? Maybe we will tell them that listening and thinking about stories is the
first foundation of Indigenous education. Maybe we will tell them that listening to stories is a way
to know how things have come into being and how they are related to everything in the world—
plants, animals, places, the stars, and we as human beings. Maybe we will point out a natural place
and tell them how they and their people are grounded in the story of that place. Maybe we will tell
them that story is sacred to Indigenous peoples and that stories, in their mythic forms, instructed
the people on how to live a good life with proper relationship to all things. Maybe we will tell them
how they will always be growing in relationship to their own story and the story of their people and
place. Maybe we will tell them how we are blessed by watching them grow into becoming one with
their people and their place—until it becomes their turn to tell their stories (Heidlebaugh, Tom.
Personal interview. 12 February 1985).

Stories present deep insights into the affective dimension of human learning, socialization in
community, and the role of story in the transfer of cultural knowledge and values. In this regard,
the fact that story and myth still form an integral part of traditional forms of education among many
Indigenous Peoples is a challenge to the linear, objectified, material epistemology of the Global
North and its focus on a homogeneous Western educational paradigm that tends to trivialize story
and myth as fairy tale and figments of imagination appropriate only for young children.

However, human beings are social beings and the development of understanding for the com-
plex nature of social relationships forms a foundation for the socialization of children within their
families, community, and cultural group. Stories are integral to traditional Indigenous epistemolo-
gies. The deep psychological mechanisms associated with myths, stories, and storytelling facilitate
the development of not only self-knowledge but also social and communal knowledge on the part
of children. We need to develop insights into the deeper psychology of learning through story. We
need to reflect on and develop insights into how stories are internalized and passed on through
personal relationships which develop as a result of both peer and intergenerational mentoring.
Children’s psychology and social development are enhanced through the telling and processing of
stories. Donna Eder (2010) in her book, Life Lessons through Storytelling, illustrates how stories
act to affect children’s sense of ethics and how this knowledge can be applied to the development
of more enlightened curricula that help develop children’s ethical character.

In the global multicultural realities that characterize modern societies today, it is important for
teachers and students to learn and practice “contexting” information in culturally sensitive and
holistic ways. Making story the basis of teaching and learning provides one of the best ways to do
this kind of contexting and enhancing of meaning in all areas of content. It is possible to teach all
content from the basis of story and once again allow teachers to truly become “story tellers and
story makers.” Teachers tell stories of subject content all the time. But what modern teachers have
to understand is that knowledge has to be contexted in the lived experience of students to have real
and lasting meaning. Stories that have meaning for students come from the cultural and personal

Cajete 115

experiences of the students, families, and communities. Stories and the art of storytelling are a
vehicle for meaningful learning, and teaching is, after all is said and done, essentially a communi-
cative art form based on the ancient tribal craft of storying (Eder, 2010).

Story and Indigenous teaching

Story is one of the most basic ways that the human brain structures and relates human experience.
Everything that humans do and experience revolves around some kind of story. The predominance
of television and the various other forms of mass media in modern life is largely because these are
vehicles for storytelling, that is, the transfer of information contexted in such a way as to relate a
message or convey a meaning. Story is the way humans context information and experience to
make it meaningful. Even in modern times, we are one and all “storied and storying beings.” At
almost every moment of our lives, from birth to death and even in sleep, we are engaged with sto-
ries of every form and variation.

Stories were the first ways humans stored information; they were the basis of the oral tradition
of all Tribal peoples. Since the beginning of human history, Tribal cultures have ordered the under-
standing and meaning of human existence through their remembrance and enactment of stories in
ritual, song, dance, and art. Stories have deep roots stemming not only from the physiology and
contexting process of the brain but also from the very heart of the human psyche. Stories reflect
aspects of the way the human mind organizes and remembers information. At a deeper level, they
reflect the topography and language of the human spirit. However, stories go beyond education and
the recitation of words. Indigenous stories related the experience of life lived in time, place, and
spirit. They were not only a description or narrative but an echo of a truth lived and remembered.
They remain the most “human” of human forms of communication (Cajete, 1994: 117).

It may be that we are all born with a “sense” for story and a basic wisdom of educating is to
provide a context in which this natural human sense may be nourished. Indigenous education
evolved through and simultaneously imparted a kind of “awareness of story” that exercised and
provided a context through which imagination and the unconscious could develop at all stages of
life. Indeed, Indigenous storytelling engaged all levels of higher order creative thinking and imag-
ing capacities. Indigenous storytelling developed a fluency of metaphoric thinking and mythic
sensibility which served Indigenous people in their understanding of their own inner psychology
and maintenance of their spiritual ecology.

The basis of traditional Indigenous education is embodied in the structures of myth and oral
expression. Moreover, the development of four basic disciplines of thinking related to the creative
process was engendered as a part Indigenous storying. These disciplines were attention, creative
imagination, flexibility, and fluency of thinking. In turn, each of these disciplines of storying was
exercised within the context of telling, enacting, singing, creating, or dancing a story which per-
sonified Indigenous life and meaning. These contexts of Indigenous story are as viable today as
they were in the past and can form a creative foundation for contemporary Indigenous education
by Indigenous teachers. For non-Indigenous teachers, story should become more than just extra-
curricular activities reserved for free time and elementary grades. The legacy and the innate learn-
ing potential of storying must be recaptured and made an integral part of contemporary education
at every level. Mythological thinking, creative imagination, story making, and storytelling should
become as important to educators as the focus on “common core standards.”

Myth as a body of deep knowledge

Tribal myths contain tremendous psychological energy that illuminates and contexts the acts of
both individual and community when it is appropriately accessed. Every body of Tribal myth

116 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

contains a variety of stories which are culturally important to a Tribe and reflect their uniqueness.
Tribal myths are filled with Tribally significant metaphors, symbols, images, and creative linguis-
tic/visual forms which are emotionally affective for members of a Tribe. They are essentially
interpreted accounts of the world experienced through the lives of the people of the tribe. As a
whole, they are reflections of the role of people and spirits which affect a Tribe’s world. They are
a body of explanation which forms the Story of the People as they perceive and relate that story.
Donald Fixico in his book, American Indian Mind in a Linear World (2003), re-enforces this
statement of the depth of Indigenous stories in that they touch on every aspect of a Tribe’s sense
of itself and its way of being in the world.

Every tribe created vehicles for skillfully and creatively accessing the inherent energy contained
in their body of myth. Through the telling, performance, and artistic expression of myth, Tribal
teachers actively brought their Tribal bodies of myth alive and made its lessons relevant to their
audience’s time and place. While keeping true to the core meanings of their myths, tribal teachers
continually improvised, reorganized, and recreated the particular elements of a myth to fit their
audience, the situation, and their own personal expression. In reality, every myth is “renewed” with
each time and in each place it is told. Myths live through each teller and through each audience
which hears and actively engages them. Myths and their enactment in every form were the way a
tribe remembered to remember their shared experience as a people.

There are as many ways to tell a myth as there are myth tellers, and there are many ways to view
myth as well. Western academic schools of “mythic” thought have ranged from evolutionist, to
symbolic, to psychoanalytic, to functionalist, to structuralism, to folkloric orientations in their
attempts to explain the human phenomena of myth. Yet, only recently have Western scholars turned
to the “keepers of myth” for guidance. And, only recently, have some Western scholars of myth
begun to cultivate an appreciation for these keepers and reverence for the power of myths in shap-
ing human learning and experience. Indeed, humans are storytelling animals. Story is a primary
structure through which humans think, relate, and communicate. We make stories, tell stories, and
live stories because it is such an integral part of the way of being human. Myths, legends, and folk
tales have been a cornerstone of teaching in every culture. These forms of “story” teach us about
the nature of human life in all its dimensions and manifestations. They teach us how to live fully
through reflection on, or participation in, the uniquely human cultural expressions of community,
art, religion, and adaptation to a natural environment. The myths we live by actively shape and
integrate our life experience. They inform us, as well as form us, through our interaction with their
symbols, images, and meanings (Vecsey, 1991: 13–14).

Myths explain what it means to live in community with one another. They explain human
dependence on the natural world and essential relationships which must be maintained therein.
They explore the life-and-death matters of human existence and relate such matters to basic ori-
gins, causes, or relationships. They reflect on the concerns which are basic and crucial to humans’
understanding of themselves. Creation, survival, relationship, healing, wholeness, and death are
the consistent themes of myth in every culture, place, and time. In short, myths are everything that
the people and community which create them are.

The function of myth is as diverse and complex as human life and cultures. The myths that we
live by glue our communities together through shared metaphors of identity and purpose. Myths
help to balance individual psychologies and connect them to the greater wholes of the Tribe,
natural environment, and global community. Myths “resound” the spiritual essence of religion
and ritual in life-related terms. Myth mirrors the paradoxes of life and reflects the truth behind
every paradox.

Myth, in both its expressions through narrative and performance, is a communicative art form
which integrates other art forms such as song, dance, and visual arts in its expression. Indeed,

Cajete 117

myth is a primary contextual field for artistic expression and may have led to the development of
“visual and material art” in the early stages of human culture. Art is one of the languages of myth
(Pfeiffer, 1982).

Finally, myths live or die through people. Myths, as human creations, are messages—as well as
a way of conscious reflection—which live through the people who share them through the breath
of their thoughts, words, and actions.

Living through myth means learning how to use the primal images and processes which myth
presents in a creative process of learning and teaching which connects our past, present, and future.
Living through myth also means learning to live a life of relationships to ourselves, other people,
and the world based on an appreciation, understanding, and guidance from our inner spirit and our
wealth of ancestral/cultural traditions.

To “seek” such a life is a foundational metaphor of Indigenous Education which invites the
empowerment and cultivation of a creative life of learning. Moreover, it is the images and symbols
brought to life through myth at the personal and group levels that provide impetus for such a crea-
tive life:

Mythic images are pictures that involve us both physiologically in our bodily reactions to them and
spiritually in our higher thoughts about them. When a person is aware of living mythically, he or she is
experiencing life intensively and reflectively. (Goldburg, 1979: 47)

Connecting with personal and cultural mythology

The connection between personal mythology, cultural mythology, and the education process is
complex and dynamic. Suffice it to say that, since our personal stories fuel our emotions and shape
our beliefs, as we come to understand the principles by which our personal mythology operates, we
will become more able to consciously participate in its development. This is equally true of one’s
personal educative process since the two types of understanding are intimately intertwined.
Integrating personal and cultural mythology through imagery is a primary component of the
Indigenous education process.

Our individual personal mythology forms a dynamic web which informs the very essence of our
lives. Awareness of the influence of our personal mythology on the unfolding process of our living
is an essential part of self-knowledge. Such awareness begins by becoming more completely con-
scious of the way in which our personal myth interpenetrates that of the multicultural universe in
which we live.

This awareness becomes first apparent through an in-depth exploration of our personal and
“cultural” origins. Exploring cultural origins is inherently a holistic process of learning our “con-
nections” and a process of affirming our evolution as an inter-dependent human being. It is becom-
ing aware that we all live a “mythic” life, and the “mythic life” which we live is guided every step
of the way through our own process of “mythologizing.” In understanding this process, we become
conscious of our relationship to our family myth, our societies’ conventional myths, and the uni-
versality of the human condition.

To be unconscious of these mythic relationships and our own personal mythology, we doom
ourselves to look through a distorted lens at other people, the world, and ourselves. A level of
“critical consciousness” as it concerns our own and our culture’s mythology is essential to a true
learning and teaching situation. The Indigenous education process infuses itself with opportunities
for exploring various levels of personal and cultural mythology.

The beginning of this personal mythic journey in the Indigenous educative process focuses on
mythic images and meanings. For it is through this focus that one begins the process of living a

118 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

mythically literate life—that is, to live life with conscious reference to more than day-to-day con-
cerns, to live a life with greater understanding and appreciation for cultural/ancestral roots, to live
a life of cultivated relationship with significant people, practices, institutions, and the world, based
on guidance from inner and creative sources. The mythic image and its meanings at the personal
and group level provide the visual language for the beginning of such a learning process:

Myth is the language that most closely approximates the natural workings of the psyche. The language of
myth is made up of images, symbols, and psychological undertones. And this language has both personal
and group dimensions which interface constantly.” [At the personal level] human consciousness reflects
deep mythological images while simultaneously being shaped by the mythos of the surrounding culture.
“Myths talk to psyche in its own language; they speak emotionally, dramatically, sensuously, fantastically.”
(Feinstein and Krippner, 1988: 1–8)

Myth presents a doorway through which human and natural energy moves in the expressions of
human culture. A key to expressing Indigenous education in a contemporary sense includes
attempting to influence the way Indian people construct their understanding of themselves and
their place in a contemporary world. This understanding stems from their Indigenous mythic lan-
guage (both personal and cultural) as it finds contemporary expression in ritual, dream, art, dance,
music, and social interaction. Tracking the way myth acts to move people and communities is an
important first step in learning how to use myth effectively in the context of teaching.

Tracking a story: Concentric rings of Indigenous education process

American Indians are heterogeneous, yet also homogeneous, people. Although this statement sounds
paradoxical, it is valid from a mythological perspective. Indigenous peoples of the Americas share
elementary ideas and cultural values whose symbolic meanings and archetypes are similarly inter-
preted from tribe to tribe. In spite of anthropological and archeological statements that American
Indians are diverse and as different from one another culturally as Germans and Chinese, Indigenous
people from the tip of South America to Alaska recognize their innate “relatedness’. As a whole, we
share guiding thoughts, elemental ideas, symbols, and metaphors that cannot be denied. One such
shared body of elemental ideas and archetypes occurs in the area of reliance on a mythic tradition
and storytelling that uses metaphor as an integral part of the educational process, which, in turn,
forms the foundation for various expressions of educational philosophy in a Tribal context.

The working of a metaphor is a creative way of exploring the teaching processes using myth
in Tribal societies. Such a process is a foundational dynamic of Indigenous teaching and learn-
ing. This working evolves around the symbols and metaphors in myth and is a way of asking for

The metaphor of tracking and the symbol of concentric rings are examples of Tribal analogies
which can be worked in such a way as to present a verbal and visual image as profound teaching.
It is exactly this working in the context of myth which leads to profound and highly creative Tribal
expressions of teaching and learning.

Tracking involves good observation, common/natural sense, following an intuitive yet dis-
cernible direction, and developing intuition and visual thinking. Tracking in the literal sense
simply involves observing the “rings” that are coming into you and quieting the rings that are
going out from you. Tracks can be read at many different dimensions and from many perspec-
tives. In reality, tracking strategy begins with scanning the “rings” of a landscape with a kind of
“macro-vision.” Such scanning eventually leads one through smaller concentric “rings” down to
a micro-focus on a specific animal.

Cajete 119

The “rings” which I refer to in this discussion are those which comprise observable inter-rela-
tionships in nature and social/psychological processes. That is, every process in nature and society
occurs in what can be called a “context” of concentric rings.

Concentric rings radiate from every “thing” and every process. The concentric ring provides a
visual symbol of relationship; it is a way of visualizing how all processes radiate concentric rings,
which in turn affect other rings of other processes. The symbol of concentric rings is useful in see-
ing how one thing affects another, how one thing leads to another, and how one thing is connected
to another.

The concentric ring is also a basic symbol of wholeness. It allows for representation of whole-
ness as the interconnection of many concentric rings of relationship. The mapping of concentric
rings of relationship is a major activity which occurs in primal peoples’ mythology, ritual, and
adaptation to their respective natural environments. In all of these concentric rings of wholeness,
there is always the awareness of a particular aspect of nature, reordering it and then representing it
in some form. This process is one of the universals of the creative act and as such is a primary
dimension of science and art.

Tracking from this perspective is intimately involved with learning how to see “connections”
between concentric rings. The analogy of tracking then can be used in a variety of ways to illustrate
an essential process in Indigenous learning—that is, the process of seeing connections, being aware
of concentric circles of inter-relationship and following the “tracks” of a parable or mythic process.
The process of tracking itself comprises a group of concentric rings beginning with the physical,
followed by the psychological, then the social and metaphysical. These rings of tracking represent
inter-related dimensions of process and “field” thinking.

Field thinking within the context of tracking simply means becoming aware of a particular
“field of relationships” and being able to pick out specific possibilities within this field which
directly relate to what one wants to find or to do.

Tracking at the first level usually requires the ability to see connections of a physical nature.
For example, an experienced indigenous hunter of wide experience in a particular environment
can tell a fox is coming when a blue jay begins to scold in just a certain way. How does he know
this? Well, in all likelihood, sometime in the past the old hunter observed and heard a blue jay
scolding a fox in just this way. The old hunter fixed that image and that sound in his memory. He
saw a specific connection within a field of possibilities. When that particular blue jay scold is
heard again, the hunter remembers the sound and the image.

Tracking at the physical level requires the development of the ability to discern patterns using our
visual acuity, to discern differences in sound, feeling, smell, and even taste. It involves the ability to
know, using these basic human perceptual abilities, tracking of a particular problem or situation.

Tracking in the metaphysical sense is basically following the concentric rings of the physical,
psychological, social, and spiritual to their various origins. Mythology presents the primary exam-
ple of this process.

Try to visualize tracking of the trace of an animal through the eye of the hunter, then into the
mouth of the hunter, then back through his hand, his body, and his psyche in the forms of art, dance,
song, and ritual. Through myth and its associated rings of expression, the hunter celebrates the
animal to make more animals, to dance more animals, to increase the fertility and vitality of certain
animal species, and, in doing so, to keep the concentric rings rotating and inter-relating in a
positive way. This is the essence of the hunting mythology of early man (Stokes, John. Personal
interview. 30 January 1985).

Primal mythologies abound with examples of tracing and “working” the tracks of “the ances-
tors” through time and through a geographical landscape of mythology whose concentric rings
radiate to the present time and place. A key to understanding mythological tracking of concentric

120 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

rings is developing the ability to think “upside down.” In mythological contexts, things are
reversed and inside out. For instance, the peyote hunt of the Huichol Indians of Mexico is char-
acterized by tracing of the steps of the Huichol ancestors to the mythological land of Peyote,
which is called “Wirikuta.” This reverse tracking of the ancestor’s steps occurs over a geographi-
cal and mythological landscape in which those Huichol seeking the peyote are led by a “Mara a
kame” (Huichol Shaman) through five concentric rings of relationship. Each of these rings is
symbolized by its own state of mind, its own ritual, its own natural energy, and geographical
landmark. The geographical landscape from the Sierra Madre, where the Huichols now live, to
the desert flats just outside of San Luis Potessi, where the peyote cactus is to be found, represents
the trail of the ancestors’ tracks. Along the geographical landscape of this trail are natural land-
marks which are representative of the concentric rings of important natural and life-sustaining
“energies” of the earth. These are the archetypal energies of earth, wind, fire, water, plant, and
animal. Each of these energies is represented in Huichol traditional yarn painting by mythologi-
cal animals, beings, and entities. They are symbolic of the natural shaping energies of the earth’s
landscape (Myerhoff, 1974).

Tracking the ancestors’ mythological steps, then, takes the Huichol through different levels of
knowing in reference to peyote, Huichol origins and myth, Huichol cultural philosophy, and the
natural energies of the Huichol’s natural habitat. This sort of metaphysical tracking through con-
centric rings of inter-relationship illustrates how landscape, natural energies, plants, and animals
affect each other. Noting these relationships and their mutual effects is the beginning of “primal”
science and the wellspring of Indigenous knowledge.

For instance, within the contexts of Native American mythologies, certain geographical features
personify “ties” between natural processes. Generally, such features are looked upon as sacred
places. These natural features may be specific formations, springs, lakes, rivers, mountains, or
other natural places. All these features physically, visually, and metaphysically represent concen-
tric rings in nature. Many are symbols of life sustainers such as corn, deer, buffalo, fish, rain
clouds, and forests. An understanding of the relationships inherent in these “ties” is essential to
survival. Therefore, much attention is given to ways of knowing and learning about important natu-
ral phenomena.

Myths present a way of mapping a particular geographical landscape. Relating the stories asso-
ciated with a particular geographic place is a way to begin to develop a cognitive map of that place
and of its concentric rings of inter-relationship. Migration myths, for instance, are tracking stories
through a geographical landscape. In many Native American migration myths, it is implied that the
“ancestors” left representations of themselves in various natural forms or phenomena to remind
people how to act and how to relate to the natural world.

Through the symbol of concentric rings, myth is able to give us a visual image of how one thing
in reality is like something in myth and vice versa. Every myth has its concentric rings of meaning
and is told and retold in this way. The telling of a myth begins with a simple version for children,
then moves to a slightly more complicated version for adolescents, to a deeper version for initiates,
and to a still deeper version for the fully mature.

The symbol of concentric circles in its many manifestations throughout the cultures of the world
universally seems to connote a process event. That is, the concentric ring, when it is used in primal
myth, ritual, or art, denotes that something happened here or that something is happening here—it
might be a waterhole, a ceremony, a distinct natural phenomena, or an important life activity.

For instance, the concentric ring represents a major process symbol in the mythology, ritual, and
art of the Australian aborigine. As represented in Aboriginal traditional art, the concentric ring is a
place of an important event of sacred significance and great insight. The mandala and the medicine
wheel are other symbolic exemplifications of significant process events. Since myth mirrors and

Cajete 121

analogizes natural process, it is no wonder that one of the simplest symbols represents one of the
most complex processes of both nature and the human psyche—that of inter-relationships.

The symbol of concentric rings images the fact that everything is unique and leaves its own
signature track. Yet it also shows that all things share likenesses which are to be found in the over-
lap of rings.

Knowledge grows and develops outward in concentric rings. Likewise, concentric rings can
also form the basis of learning how to track ideas and intuitions, how to observe fields of knowl-
edge, and how to see patterns and connections in thought and natural reality.

Indigenous education in “process” is basically following tracks in a particular field or level of
natural, social, or spiritual reality. This tracking at any given dimension requires opening one’s
mind to the possibilities within each of the many concentric circles within that dimension. Learning
how to blend the mythological, aesthetic, intuitive, and visual perspectives of nature with the sci-
entific, rational, and verbal perspective is an integral part of Indigenous education. Education, from
this viewpoint, involves learning to see nature holistically. This requires a continual shifting and
interplay between the two complementary perspectives mentioned. Facilitating the learning of how
to orchestrate these two ways of viewing nature toward the greatest effect must become a major
activity of contemporary Indian education.

In this Indigenously modeled approach, a first track begins with a symbol. It is these symbols
which are the connection or keys which access the myth, the relationships of concentric circles, and
knowledge and perceptions of natural realities. For instance, in teaching and learning a process
discipline such as science, beginning with a mythological track and following that track, through
its concentric circles from its abstraction to its reality and then back again, presents one of the most
natural and potentially creative approaches.

The Southwestern Indian symbol of the humpbacked flute player, sometimes called “Kokopeli”
or ant man, provides a case in point: The “Kokopeli” is a mythological symbol which represents
the bringer of seeds, fertility, sexuality, abundance, the spreading of art and culture. The “Kokopeli”
is a natural process symbol which is “pregnant” with meaning.

As such, the symbol of “Kokopeli” is surrounded by many myths; these myths in turn abound
with metaphors representing various dimensions of the procreative processes of nature. Each of
these processes is encircled by a body of psychological, aesthetic, and cultural expressions. These
expressions in turn are tied to realities which are observable and which form a basis for Indigenous
teaching through myth.

The “Kokopeli” is a mythically contexted visual metaphor which acts as a kind of “gatekeeper.”
That is, through “tracking” its meaning through its multiple levels of use and its various appear-
ances in myths from Mexico to the Southwest United States, one reaches one of the foundational
roots of an Indigenous archetype and mythic tradition. There are other “gatekeepers” connected to
other foundational Puebloan mythic roots. Thinking Woman, The Corn Maidens, and Spider
Woman are some of the others. Tribal-specific “gatekeepers” exist for the Dine’, Lakota, Iroquois,
Ojibway, Huichol, Inuit, and every other tribe from Alaska to the tip of South America. The com-
plex of Raven myths in the Northwest, the Coyote/Trickster myths of the West and Southwest, the
Inapi (Old Man) myths of the Northern Plains, the Sedna myths of the Far North, the “Abiding
Stone—Inyan” and White Buffalo Calf Woman myths of the Central Plains, and the Tree of Peace
and Great Turtle of the Northern Woodlands are only a few of the American Tribal mythic bodies,
each of which contains numbers of “gatekeeper” symbols whose tracking leads to the roots of a
Tribal tradition and its mythic knowledge base.

This methodology is a form of creative analysis in which the logic for myth and its validation is
internally consistent with the perspective of a Tribe’s understanding an essential “message”
reflected through the myth.

122 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

Those gatekeeper symbols which are widely used in a particular region and which have a wide
breadth of meaning can be explored within the context of myths from the same region. A major
Indigenous cultural or philosophical concept, they provide ideal vehicles for ways of seeing,
understanding, and relating considered important by a group of tribes in a region.

Selected excerpts of myths from various regions of Tribal America will be used in some of the
forthcoming chapters to illustrate key characteristics of each of the foundations of Indigenous

The myth of “Water Jar Boy” is a story shared by the Pueblos near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Its
roots begin in a mythic past that is ancient and reflective of the way the visual symbolic form of
“Kokopeli” is employed in both the oral narrative and petroglyphic illustration of this Pueblo
teaching story.

Some northern Pueblo grandmothers tell this story at key times as children are growing up. It is
a teaching story, a story about why things are and the importance of coming to know the sources
from which human life proceeds. There are, of course, deeper levels of meaning in such stories,
and as one hears these stories throughout one’s life, the deeper levels of meaning reveal themselves
when we are ready to hear them and internalize their teaching in our lives.

Water Jar Boy

A young girl named Water Flower lived with her father and mother in a very old village called
“place where the waters come together.” The girl was very beautiful, kind, and good of heart. When
she became of age, many boys of the village tried to win her eye. However, she was very shy and
did not pay attention to any of the boys of the village. She did not want to leave her father and
mother since they were quite old and needed her help (Water Jar Boy, 1926: 193).

Water Flower liked to help her mother make pottery, especially the water jars which her mother
made so well. One day her mother asked her to help mix the pottery clay. She went to a spring near
the village to get a special colored clay to decorate the pottery. While Water Flower was mixing the
clay with her feet near the spring, she began to feel very strange in her stomach. The more she
mixed the clay, the more clay covered her feet and the stranger she felt. She stopped mixing the
clay and went home. She told her mother how she felt mixing the clay, but her mother thought
nothing of it and told her not to worry.

A few days passed and Water Flower started to feel something moving in her belly. She did not
want to tell her mother and father. But soon she became very ill and when her mother felt her belly
and knew that her daughter was with child. When the child was born, the mother saw that it was
not like any other child. It was a beautiful little water jar. Her father came in and upon seeing the
beautiful little jar said, “It is a special gift and although we do not know how this has happened we
must accept it.” Water Flower’s father became very fond of the little water jar, and when it began
to move and grow, he became happy. The water jar grew very fast and in a few days it was able to
talk and roll itself around following him inside the house. One day, the little water jar asked the
Grandfather to take it outside so that it could play with the other children. The grandfather was
surprised at the little water jar’s request, but he took it out and soon the little jar was rolling around
to the delight of the children in the village. The children became very fond of the little water jar and
would wait each day for the grandfather to bring it out to play. The children named the little jar,
Water Jar Boy.

One day, the young men of the village were gathering to go rabbit hunting. Water Jar Boy
announced, “Grandfather, I want to go rabbit hunting with the rest of the boys, please take me to
where the rabbits are so I can hunt too.” The Grandfather was shocked at the request and told Water
Jar Boy, “How can you hunt, you have no arms, or legs, besides hunting is for real boys”! Water Jar

Cajete 123

Boy replied, “But Grandfather, I am a real boy!” Grandfather decided to take Water Jar Boy to where
the rabbits were and as they were leaving, Water Flower began to cry fearing that Water Jar Boy
would be hurt. Water Jar Boy told his mother not to worry, he would return with “many rabbits”!

Grandfather placed Water Jar Boy near a Mesa where he knew many rabbits lived and told
Water Jar Boy that he would return to pick him up before sunset. Grandfather then joined the other
older men as they set out to gather the rabbits together. Water Jar Boy began to roll around as he
saw rabbits pass by. As he was rolling, he hit a large stone and broke. Out of the broken jar jumped
a very handsome boy dressed in a rabbit-skin kilt. The boy picked up a stick and ran after the rab-
bits killing some of them and letting others go. As the sun began to set, he walked toward the Mesa
carrying many rabbits on his back to meet his Grandfather. As he approached, his Grandfather did
not recognize him. His Grandfather asked, “Have you seen a water jar rolling around?” Water Jar
Boy laughed and said, “Grandfather, it is me Water Jar Boy, your grandson!” Grandfather looked
in disbelief as Water Jar Boy told how when he was rolling around he hit a stone, broke his skin,
and came out of the jar. “I told you I was a real boy!”

When they came home, Grandfather announced to Water Flower and the Grandmother, “This is
my grandson, this is Water Jar Boy!” Then they told the story of how Water Jar Boy had jumped
out of the broken water jar and how he had killed many rabbits. Everyone was happy and they
invited all their relatives for a special feast to meet the new Water Jar Boy. From then on, Water Jar
Boy stayed with the young men and participated in the life of the community.

As time went on, Water Jar Boy became curious about who his Father was. One day he asked
his mother, “Who is my Father, where does he live?” She began crying and said that she did not
know and she could not tell him where he could go to find him. However, somehow, Water Jar Boy
knew the answer to his own question. He announced to his mother, “I know where my Father is and
tomorrow I will go and find him!” The next day he set out toward the West and walked for a long
time. He saw a marsh and knew that there was a spring there. As he neared the spring, he saw a man
dressed in buckskin sitting on a stone near a large spring. The man asked, where are you going?
Water Jar Boy replied, “I am going inside that spring there to find my Father.” “Who is your
Father?” asked the man. Water Jar Boy paused and looked at the man closely and then said, “I think
that it is you that is my Father.” To which the man replied, “Yes, I am your Father and I am happy
that you have finally come to see me. I came from the inside of that spring. That is my home. My
name is Mountain Spring.” Mountain Spring took Water Jar Boy inside the spring and there Water
Jar Boy met all his relatives.

Water Jar Boy stayed in the spring one day and was very happy. Then, he said goodbye and
returned home to tell his mother Water Flower the news. Water Jar Boy lived in the village for a while
until Water Flower became ill and died. Water Jar Boy was very sad and decided to go see his father
again. He entered the spring and to his surprise he was greeted by both his mother Water Flower and
his father Mountain Spring. Water Jar Boy stayed in the spring and he lives there to this day.

The myth of Water Jar Boy is a classic story of “asking.” Water Jar Boy is persistent in asking
for knowledge and understanding of a missing dimension of his life. He asks, “Who is my father?”
and “Where is my father?” And in his constant and sincere asking, the determination of his search,
and in his own understanding of his own “specialness,” Water Jar Boy finds not only his father but
his spiritual family inside the spring.

The tale of Water Jar Boy is simple, yet profound, and extraordinarily deep in its metaphoric
meanings. Water Jar Boy is created through a traditional Pueblo art form, pottery, which reflects
the profound role and magic of the creative process in traditional Tribal art forms. It evokes and
relates the power of hunting and the use of hunting as a metaphor for searching, learning, and
understanding. It reminds us that all is not always as it may seem and that what may appear as
handicaps in children may indeed be a special talent since Water Jar Boy can “roll” as fast as other

124 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

little boys can run. Water Jar Boy’s belief in his ability to be a successful hunter shows us how
“children” transform themselves through the challenges that they face and overcome.

Water Jar Boy’s heroic journey to find his father, the special beings who guide him and his
entrance into the spring, where he finds not only his spirit father but his aunts and other relatives,
is a reflection of the journey deep into ourselves which is required of deep understanding and true
learning. In discovering not only his father but his aunts in the spring, Water Jar Boy reminds us
that while true learning is always individual, its ultimate goal is not “the individual writ large” but
rather communion with our deeper spiritual self and that of our “relations.” Learning and teaching
is always about and for life through community and relationship.

Mythopoetic tribal education: Implications for global childhood

The tremendous influence of these mythopoetic traditions on the development of global childhood
education becomes apparent when one tracks the rich array of oral forms used by traditional socie-
ties to their ancient sources. These traditions depended upon the spoken word for communication
rather than the visual word which dominates modern education today. Globally, Indigenous Peoples,
through their use of various mythopoetic forms of communication, applied strategies and orienta-
tions to learning that are important to revive and nourish in today’s global education. Modern peo-
ple, for the most part, have become “mythically blind” and suffer all the consequences stemming
from such a “handicap” because their natural poetic sensibility has been “schooled” out of them.

Thinking and communicating “poetically” through the structures of myth is a natural expres-
sion of human learning which has been evolving for the last 40,000 years. Mythopoetic orienta-
tions are apparent in most children before they learn how to read. Indeed, children at this
“illiterate” stage of their life show amazing metaphoric thinking and storying skills reflecting
their natural poetic nature. In modern education’s mad dash to make children (and for that matter
Indigenous people) literate, it fails to recognize or honor a powerful dimension of a natural
human way of knowing and understanding. The hidden message is “stop being children and stop
being Indigenous.” It is ironic that today so many modern people lament the loss of this primal
human sensibility and strive in so many ways to recapture it through participation in some
“thing” creative, Indigenous, or mythological.

Print, literacy, and the written story are very recent developments in human history—even in the
history of Western societies. They, never-the-less, evolved from “illiterate” mythopoetic roots which
cannot be denied in spite of the negative connotation that Western “civilized” cultures have promoted
with regard to “illiteracy” as a sign of being uneducated, uncivilized, and primitive. The study and
honoring of oral traditions and “orality” in children offers essential insights into the nature of natural
learning. The human “oral” orientation to education offers techniques as well as windows into the
world of Indigenous education. A better understanding of oral-based learning revitalizes old yet
highly effective techniques for learning while opening up new dimensions which have been forgotten
or have become dormant with the development of the printed word, literacy, and modern education’s
focus on making everyone literate. What then was the nature of the mythopoetic tradition and why
must it again become an important element of contemporary global childhood education?

Mythic poems were performed, sung, or recited using a particular system of rhythmic structure
which in turn required the application of a different set of thinking processes and developed a dif-
ferent kinds of learning capacities than today’s modern schooling. The Aztec tradition of “flower
and song” is one Indigenous example of a mythopoetic tradition of education in which teaching,
learning, and reflection were founded upon chanted stories, poems, or prayers. The Aztec poet,
philosopher/priest, would compose poetic storied chants or teach the “divine songs, the mythic

Cajete 125

tales and poetic verse which embodied the essential thoughts and content of Nahuatl religion and
philosophy.” He would then chant these stories and poems to students who would reflect on or
internalize the essential messages which they contained. Later, as they became experienced in this
oral system, students would compose poetic chants of their own to present to each other and their
“tlamatinime,” their poet-teacher. In essence, the “flower” was the thought, the feeling, the insight,
the wisdom, and knowledge that was considered of importance as a teaching. The “song” was the
vehicle which transported and transformed the “flower” of knowledge and made it live through the
breath of the chanter and in the hearts of the listeners (Portillo, 1963: 140).

Indigenous mythopoetic traditions are one and all essentially educational. Indigenous mythopo-
etic perspectives were founded upon an awe for the “Great Mystery” (that unknown spirit that per-
meates and animates everything, everywhere); the development of a strong, wise, and pure heart; an
abiding respect for one’s tribe, traditions, and law; and deep sense for the relationships and connec-
tions between all things. Tribal myths transferred these basic teachings through enlivened images
and metaphors which embodied an expansive view of people in relationship with each other and a
multiverse full of potential and possibility. Tribal myths encompassed every “thing” within a con-
text which was spiritual yet irreverent, serious yet humorous, logical yet illogical. The messages
conveyed through these stories had the power to heal and bring resolution to conflicts because, at its
core, poetry illuminates, transforms, and mirrors the heart and soul of both the individual and the
People. The presentation of these messages went beyond just words to include sounds, dance, music,
games, gesture, symbol, and dream. In this way, thoughts, teachings, and emotions were amplified.
Every word, every act, had meaning and energy. This allowed specific Tribal myth and poetry to
become part of a larger context of situation and human expression, thereby making the presentation
of myth and poetry a true expression of the “sacred” breath within humans and all living things.
How did this “intermedia” characteristic of Indigenous mythopoetic traditions “educate” its partici-
pants and what does it have to teach us about the oral nature of human learning (Rothenberg, 1986)?

The mythopoetic realm of teaching and learning is not a relic of the past as might be construed
from the designation of the arts and theater in the curricula of so many American schools. Rather,
it is an educational necessity for enabling the kind of “new” imagination so desperately needed in
today’s sterilized and homogenized approach of modern education. Modern educators must admit
to the fact that non-European, traditional cultures around the world exhibit a level of complexity
and sophistication of thought which equals and many times surpasses modern perceptions of what
it means to educate. Many ingrained modern biases and preconceptions of the “primitive” which
have been conveyed and conditioned through the hidden curriculum of modern education must be
examined. This is especially true of the mythopoetic traditions of Indigenous America. The nega-
tive connotations associated with the word “primitive” must give way to a more enlightened under-
standing of the complexity and richness of “primal” traditions of myth, poetry, and storytelling.

In contrast to the usual conditioned modern perceptions of “the primitive,” oral traditions and
Tribal art forms are as individually oriented as they are collectively determined and contexted. It is
a fallacy that traditional cultures and their oral traditions do not change, or that creative self-
reflection is not a part of the traditional formula. It is naive to think that orality alone defines
Indigenous thinking. Indigenous oral traditions have always been integrated with drawing, arts,
and practical education. It is the perpetuation of injustice to think that Indigenous people have not
reflected equally as hard about the nature of language, myth, art, culture, aesthetics, ethics, and
philosophy as Western scholars. If anything, the mythopoetic traditions of Indigenous people
reflect that in reality, there is no such thing as “primitive” in the way in which Western education
has traditionally conditioned people to perceive it. The tendency of Western education to divide
myth and poetry from music, dance, and relationship to nature, community, spirituality, history,
and even politics reflects an illusion of Western thinking.

126 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

Indigenous mythopoetic traditions are highly contexted expressions of thought, reflection, and
participation. They are connected to the living expressions and continuity of Tribal life, past, pre-
sent, and future. From this perspective, primitive includes the complex and multifaceted. Among
Indigenous people, myth, poem, teaching, and learning were all one movement. There is the crea-
tion of a unity within a diversity of expressions which creates an extraordinary field for creative
learning and teaching (Rothenberg, 1985).

In all Indigenous mythopoetic traditions, including that of the ancient Greeks during the time of
Homer, complex processes of oral structure, image making, and presentation were developed. These
processes were indeed very complex in that they used a minimum amount of words to create a maxi-
mum amount of meaning, affect, and involvement. These processes in turn engaged the fullest par-
ticipation of both the giver and receiver in reflecting upon the message of the work. In this sharing of
the poetic vision and experience, both giver and receiver become involved in a kind of “dance” of
meaning in which complex images, symbols, and meanings are explored in a direct and personal way.

Nothing in contemporary modern educational experience comes close to affecting and engaging
individuals as deeply and multi-dimensionally. Through the mobilization of an infinite array of
vehicles to convey a message and engender a response, Indigenous mythopoetic traditions repre-
sent the most developed and continuously affective forms of education. In every case, mind, body,
breath, and spirit of all participants were engaged in reflecting on the message of the story or poem.
What is it then to “think mythically”? How did it work in earlier times?

Education in oral cultures is largely a matter of constantly immersing the young in enchanting
patterns of sound until their minds resonate to them, until they become in tune with the institutions
of their culture (Eggan, 1989: 451):

The techniques of oral poetry [developed in Indigenous societies over countless generations] are designed
to discourage critical reflection on the stories and their contents, and instead “enchant” the hearers and draw
them into the story. This process of enthralling the audience, of impressing upon them the reality of the
story, is a central feature of education in oral cultures. Their social institutions are sustained in large part by
sound, by what the spoken or sung word can do to commit individuals to particular beliefs, expectations,
roles and behaviors. Thus the techniques of fixing crucial patterns of belief in memory, rhyme, rhythm,
formula, story, and so on, are vitally important. (Havelock, 1963 (in Eggan article (1987)), p. 29)

The Homeric poems were called the educators of pre-Classical Greeks because they performed
this social function. Poems were not listened to solely because of their aesthetic value; that was
incidental to their value as “a massive repository of useful knowledge, a sort of encyclopedia of
ethics, politics, history, and technology which the effective citizen was required to learn as the core
of his educational equipment.”

Mythopoetic learning among Indigenous people can best be described as an integration of verbal
with musical learning which at times is complemented by kinesthetic and spatial learning. Indigenous
learning indeed does involve a different orientation to learning than modern education. This differ-
ent orientation in turn engenders a different way and expression of understanding. It is an orientation
that modern education has really never understood or valued. Yet, it engenders a cadre of valuable
learning skills and supports other kinds of learning which many students sorely lack.

The mythically instructed community

Culture and mythology are mental constructs whose evolution is based on the development of
groups and individuals through the long history of Tribal societies. Within Tribal groups, the evo-
lution of a cultural/social mythology closely parallels the evolution of the personal mythology of

Cajete 127

individuals. There is a mutualistic/synergistic relationship between the individual and his or her
primary group. The individual or group of individuals whose personal mythology most strongly
reflects the forces of change impact the group to which they belong as change agents, and it is this
dynamic that most directly influences the consciousness that characterizes the formal and infor-
mal educative process.

The evolution of human consciousness has generally been marked by transformations of the
guiding myths that a given society holds. In a sense, mythic stories trace the journey of a people
through different stages of their consciousness as well as through the times and places in which
they have lived.

Ken Wilber (1981) in his book Up From Eden describes four basic stages of human conscious-
ness. The first of these stages begins with a pre-mythological state of consciousness in which the
human sense of self is essentially identified with the physical needs of the body and the primordial
forces of Nature. In this “Eden” stage of consciousness, humans reflected an almost complete com-
munion with Nature, using only simple tools, organized in simple extended-family groups and
engaged in a sense of self that was only slightly differentiated from that of their Place (Wilber, 1981).

Wilber describes the second epoch of human consciousness as the true beginning of myth-
making. During this stage, consciousness was characterized by a kind of integration between the
mythical structuring of reality based on physical needs with the projection of “magical” relation-
ships to entities in the outside world as well.

In the third epoch, language had evolved to a stage where it allowed for the more complete
development of the verbal mind. This allowed for verbal symbols to be developed to understand
and codify information about the natural world to greater extent. This in turn allowed for accumu-
lation and transmission of knowledge through oral tradition, which in turn set the stage for large
communities to evolve, and more complex and sophisticated mythologies to be developed through
mythic story and ritual—all of which formed a foundation for what we call today Education.
During this third epoch, people’s consciousness was primarily identified with the cultural myths of
their group. People’s consciousness was primarily engendered through group identification
(Wilber, 1981).

As the fourth epoch began to unfold, an individualistic mindset gradually came into its own as
the development of the capacity for self-observation and reflection evolved. This development
seems to occur at an especially accelerated rate in Western cultures. With the development and
associated repercussions of Western science and the “Individualist” ideologies, the uniquely per-
sonal mythology of self-determining individuals began to characterize social, economic, political,
religious, and philosophical consciousness (Wilber, 1981).

The “individual ego writ large” in its enthronement of individualism became the ordering para-
digm of the society and mythology of Western Society. It affected everything, and Western science
and technology became both the tools and the icons of the Western individualist. In essence, the
Hero myth became the ordering paradigm of consciousness in the West (Wilber, 1981).

Today, a new paradigm and new era of myth is beginning to unfold. Such a new paradigm is
reflecting a new stage of human consciousness as it wrestles with an evolving global community,
the unfolding environmental crises, and “progressive democratization.” The new paradigm and
emerging myths are reflecting a mutualism and interconnection of all aspects of the earth. These
new myths, by necessity of human survival, must be Earth-centered mythologies. And the con-
comitant education must reflect the teaching/learning process and content appropriate for such new

The cost of having placed the individualism of the heroic journey above the values of caring and
connectedness continue to mount. A new vision of democracy is urgently needed that can support the

128 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

individual and at the same time promote a greater sense of community and more harmonious international
relationship. (Feinstein and Krippner, 1988: 219)

Indigenous education and its expression in various cultures around the world reflect all of the
mythic stages of human consciousness. They form frames of reference for perceiving the whole of
the evolution of human consciousness. In studying Indigenous education, every modern cultural
group may explore the “reality” of the mythic-thinking process through its manifestations in vari-
ous phases of their histories. This introduces a kind of “mythological literacy” to the domain of
modern education which for the most part is devoid of such explorations except in the highly spe-
cialized domain of the mythologist.

The American Indian experience of modern American education presents a case in point. The
re-vitalization of the concept of a mythically instructed community presents a “missing” dimension
of contemporary American education which is desperately needed by both American Indian and
American communities as they wrestle with the forces of change and deculturalization in an
American society which is still very much guided by a mythology of the “Ego Writ Large” (ego
gratification and individualism). For American Indians, the frames of reference from historic/tra-
ditional American Indian cultures for reconstituting this missing dimension are extensive. The key
is to re-vitalize, in our individual, familial, and communal actions and consciousness, the impor-
tance of living with and through the core values of relationship, responsibility, respect, and inter-
dependence with all life. These are the messages of our collective Tribal worldviews and the
essential teaching of a mythically instructed community. These messages are first communicated
in the stories children are told and then are built upon through their lives, in family and community.
However, American Indian people themselves must take the responsibility of leading their own
people and stimulating the consciousness of their counterparts in American society, toward such
basic realizations.

Beyond addressing the acute educational needs of American Indian communities, mainstream
American educators must realize that they too urgently need to integrate and interconnect in a
mutualistic way with the educational perspectives of other cultures. In this respect, Indigenous
education and its inherent emphasis on the mythological perspective have much to offer to the
“evolution” of modern American education. The insights presented by American Indian mythol-
ogy, as a body of content and a process of thought and psychological exploration, have always
presented a significant and readily accessible foundation for developing an Indigenously inspired
education process. The evolution of a contemporary Indigenous philosophy of education also
offers an authentic tool for countering deculturalization and alienation by offering a way to resyn-
thesize foundational Indigenous myths into a contemporary context of meaning.

Each person evolves his or her own “personal mythology” and perceives and acts through the
lens of that myth of self-creation. It naturally follows that in the process of learning and education,
one’s personal myth intertwines with a group myth which has been elaborated by that group for the
purpose of education toward the ends deemed valuable for the preservation of that group’s “way of
life.” If a person’s personal myth is wholesome and able to integrate well with the group’s myth (as
espoused through its educative process), then there is relatively easy “resonance” with that group’s
world view. Education and the learning that results are compatible with the norms and expectation
of that group and there is little dissonance. On the other hand, if a person’s personal myth has
another cultural frame of reference or is significantly different than the “educational myth” of the
group doing the “schooling,” the potential for conflict and resistance is great.

Alienation is the result of such a dilemma and a search for alternatives becomes a natural activ-
ity. Mirrored included in such alienation are dysfunctional personal/mythic perspectives. This is
exactly the dilemma of many modern people, both young and old. The creative solution is to

Cajete 129

construct an educational process which again resonates with a functional cultural/mythic perspec-
tive that is healthy and fits contemporary life.

Finally, connecting this perspective to the larger view of global childhood education, the unique
differences of people globally lie in the way each Tribal/cultural/social group has expressed this
shared cultural mythological paradigm of education as a result of the circumstance of adaptation to
a geographical environment, the evolution of their world view, and their Tribal group’s unique his-
tory. However, while a Tribe is unique in terms of language, adaptation experience, and expression
of cultural traits, all Tribal groups employ similar conceptual/symbolic frameworks constructed
around mythical life symbols, which represent the “seeds” from which cultural and mythic knowl-
edge and process may grow and bear new fruits. It is possible to evolve learning and teaching
models which build on shared ideas while honoring unique differences. This is especially true with
regard to the myths a particular Tribe has preserved through its oral tradition. Indigenous teaching
is essentially rooted in the structure and process of storying. Globally and historically, story and
storytelling has been a primary Teaching Way of childhood education for connecting each genera-
tion of people to each other. Story is the way that we remember to remember who we are and where
we have come from and of where we may go as we engage the potentials and challenges of a 21st
century world.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


1. Portions of this chapter have been adapted from a previously published work: Cajete (1994). The terms
Indigenous, Tribal, and Tribe are capitalized to add emphasis and to convey an active and evolving
identity. (The term Indigenous is used as the larger inclusive group term while Tribal refers to specific
contexts; both terms are capitalized as an honorific designation. American Indian is used when referring
specifically to a Tribe which resides in the United States). The terms Grandfather and Grandmother are
capitalized in the Water Jar Boy Story as an honorific term referring to Pueblo ancestors.


Cajete GA (1994) Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press,
p. 117.

Campbell J (1983) The Way of Animal Powers. London: Summerhill Press; San Francisco, CA: Harper &

Eder D with Holyan R (2010) Life Lessons through Storytelling: Children’s Exploration of Ethics (forward
GA Cajete). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. ix–xv.

Eggan K (1987) Literacy and the oral foundations of education. Harvard Education Review 57(4): 451.
Eggan K (1989) Teaching as Story Telling. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 29.
Feinstein D and Krippner S (1988) Personal Mythology. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, pp. 1–8, 219.
Fixico D (2003) American Indian Mind in a Linear World. London: Routledge.
Goldburg N (1979) Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions. Boston, MA:

Beacon Publishers, p. 47.
Myerhoff BG (1974) Peyote Hunt. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Parsons EC (1926) Tewa Tales, vol. 19. New York, NY: The American Folklore Society Memoirs, p. 193.
Pfeiffer JF (1982) The Creative Explosion. Boston, MA: Beacon Publishers.
Portillo ML (1963) Aztec Thought and Culture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, p. 140.
Rothenberg J (ed.) (1985) Technicians of the Sacred. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Rothenberg J (ed.) (1986) Shaking the Pumpkin. New York: Alfred Van Der Marck Editions.
Vecsey C (1991) Imagine Ourselves Richly. New York: Crossroad Publishing, pp. 13–14.

130 Global Studies of Childhood 7(2)

Water Jar Boy Myth One version of this myth, called “The Jug Boy,” from the Hopi-Tewa village of Hano,
was recorded by Voth (1905: 55). The longer version, called “Water Jar Boy,” was recorded by Elsie
Clews Parsons (1926) Tewa Tales, p. 193.

Wilber K (1981) Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Education. Garden City, NY: Anchor;

Author biography

Gregory A Cajete is a Native American educator whose work is dedicated to honoring the foundations of
Indigenous knowledge in education. Dr Cajete is a Tewa Indian from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. He
has lectured at colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, Japan,
Russia, Taiwan, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, England, France, and Germany. He worked at the Institute of
American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for 21 years. While at the Institute, he served as Dean of the
Center for Research and Cultural Exchange, Chair of Native American Studies, and Professor of ethno-sci-
ence. Currently, he is Director of Native American Studies and a Professor in the Division of Language,
Literacy, and Socio cultural Studies in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. Dr Cajete
has authored seven books: Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education (Kivaki Press, 1994);
Ignite the Sparkle: An Indigenous Science Education Curriculum Model (Kivaki Press, 1999); Spirit of the
Game: Indigenous Wellsprings (2004); A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living and Native
Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence (Clearlight Publishers, 1999 and 2000); Critical Neurophilosophy
and Indigenous Wisdom (Don Jacobs (Four Arrows), Gregory Cajete, and Jongmin Lee) (Sense Publishers,
2010); and Indigenous Community: Rekindling Teachings of the Seventh Fire (Living Justice Press, 2015). Dr
Cajete also has chapters in 25 other books.

We are teachers. We devote our professional lives to the
study and support of young children as they venture
forth into a complex world. This world may differ from
culture to culture, but children all over the world express
great joy in the ordinary.

It is true, almost by definition, that ordinary moments fill
most of the child�s day. Indeed, at the end of the day the
ordinary moments constitute the child�s story . . .

� An infant discovers her wiggly toes;
� A toddler balances food on a fork;

� A three year old pretends a shoe is a phone;

� A preschooler squeezes a popsicle out of a plastic

� A kindergartener laughs because his opened book is
upside down.

Ordinary moments are the pages in the child�s diary for
the day. If we could resist our temptation to record only
the grand moments, we might find the authentic child
living in the in-between. If we could resist our temptation
to put the children on a stage, we might find the real

Child Care Information Exchange 9/01 — 52







The Power of Ordinary Moments

Kath Berglund
is a kinder-
garten teacher
and pedagogi-
cal coordina-
tor at Make A
Mess and Make
Belive school

in Boulder, Colorado. She has been
in Boulder since September, 2000.
Before moving to Boulder, Kath
taught preschool in Garmisch-
Partenkirchen, Germany for a small
U.S. Army-run child development
center. Kath holds a masters
degree in early childhood educa-
tion from Cameron University’s
(Lawton, Oklahoma) overseas

George Forman is
professor of early
childhood education
at the University of
Massachusetts in
Amherst. He is co-
editor with Carolyn
Edwards and Lella

Gandini of The Hundred Languages of
Children, The Reggio Emilia Approach
(first and second editions). He designs
participatory exhibits from children’s
museums and has directed an experimen-
tal preschool called The School for
Constructive Play based on the develop-
mental theory of Jean Piaget. He was
past president of the Jean Piaget Society
and currently is on the editorial board for
Early Childhood Research and Practice, an
electronic journal published by ERIC. He
is a frequent consultant to Make A Mess
and Make Believe, a Reggio inspired
preschool in Boulder, Colorado.

by George Forman, Ellen Hall, and Kath Berglund

Ellen Hall is the
co-owner, and
executive director
of a school for
young children
located in
Boulder, Colorado.

The school, Make A Mess and Make
Believe, serves 350 children between
the ages of six weeks and six years
and their families. Through a partner-
ship with the University of Colorado
at Denver, Ellen has developed and
teaches an Intern-Masters course of
study, which offers teacher apprentices
the opportunity to receive a masters
degree in Early Childhood Education
or Educational Psychology. The Make
A Mess and Make Believe school is
inspired by the Reggio Emilia
Approach to Early Childhood

Child Care Information Exchange 9/01 — 53

eginnings W


work being done in the wings. If we understood the great
value in the ordinary moments, we might be less inclined
to have a marvelous finale for a long-term project. We
appeal to educators everywhere to find the marvel in the
mundane, to find the power of the ordinary moment.

The Power of Peter’s Moment

Take the moment of Peter playing with a toy car on the
floor. Peter has just discovered that when he presses on
the car and rolls it backward, then the car will launch
itself forward when he releases his grip. Where is the
power in this ordinary moment? Let�s wonder with Peter
as he watches the car roll forward . . .

� Will the car roll up an incline to the platform?

� Will it speed away without rolling it backwards first?

Focusing on an ordinary moment promotes inquiry and
reflection between the child and the adult and supports a
dialogue between them. The teacher and the child can
wonder . . .

� Will the car roll all the way over to the chair?
And further . . .

� Does it have enough force to knock over this little block?
And even further . . .

� Can you aim the car so it will roll straight through that
paper tunnel?

Focusing on ordinary moments allows us to slow down
and be still. To look deeply into a pool one must be still.
So we watch Peter rolling the car repeatedly and are suffi-
ciently still to notice his subtle variations. When we slow
down and carefully study the ordinary moments of
children, we honor those moments. We respect the
moments for what they offer us in our quest to under-
stand children constructing knowledge. A child rolling a
car across the floor is certainly ordinary.

The Ordinary Moment as a
Theory in Action

Why should we give this moment more than a passing
thought? The answer comes from what you see when you
look closely. Most deliberate acts of children flow from a
theory they have about the social or physical world. A
child rolling a car can be studied to reveal the assump-
tions and theories that the child holds.

Ordinary moments reveal the concepts that children use
to organize their approaches to problems. It is in the ordi-
nary moments that we see the application and extension
of knowledge. Peter attempts to launch his wind-up car to
the top of a plastic ramp made by elevating one end with
three flat blocks. The car does not make it all the way to
the top. First he tries again, without variation. Once again
he tries. On his fourth try he draws the car back further,
as if to wind up the spring more tightly. The car stops just
short of the platform at the top of the ramp. He repeats
the exaggerated wind-up, but it yields the same result. At
this point he pauses, then looks at how the ramp rests on
three blocks at one end. He removes one of the end
supports, thereby decreasing the slope of the ramp. With
the confidence of a king, he launches the car and watches
it roll to the top of the ramp and onto the platform.

Let�s decipher the concepts that organize the strategies
that Peter used. Concepts are assumptions that the child
makes about what conditions or relations have to be
present for something to work. The concept is not the goal
itself (get the car to the top), nor the acts (eliminate one
supporting block), but the child�s understanding of the
necessity of certain conditions (less incline).

Peter held several concepts. Consider his first strategy of
trying to make the car roll up the ramp; he pulled the car
back a farther distance. His assumption must have been
that the length of the backward pull is directly related to
the distance the car will travel in the forward motion. This
concept can be called a direct functional relation (as
opposed to an inverse relation where a decrease in A leads
to an increase in B). When this did not work, Peter
changed the slope of the ramp. His assumption must have
been, the steeper the ramp�s slope the more effort to
climb, therefore, the lower the ramp�s slope the more
likely a given effort will get the car to the top. In this latter
case Peter is using an inverse functional relation, the less
of A (the slope), the more of B (the distance the car will

Concepts identify the child�s move from success to understand-
ing. Concepts help the child to remember and to organize
his actions so that he can more effectively apply and
appropriate his intelligence in future ordinary moments.

Why Identify the Concepts

Greater Continuity. There are good reasons to figure out
the children�s concepts and theories. When we understand
the concepts, we can be alert to the similarities between

Child Care Information Exchange 9/01 — 54


this ordinary moment and other moments. We make
these connections by noting the common structure of the
concepts, e.g., inverse functional relation. The ordinary
moment, while small, is a microcosm of the child�s way
of thinking, a way of thinking that he might use in other
situations, such as figuring out why the markers continu-
ally roll off a tilting table.

The deeper we go into the ordinary moment, the broader
we understand the child. When we identify the concepts
the child uses in one context, such as in the car and the
ramp, we can better understand the educational value of
another context, such as a child looking down at the legs
of the table to see what is making it tilt. A deep analysis
of a single episode brings with it the possibility of more
broadly understanding the child in many episodes. We
can, therefore, say depth is breadth.

Better Conversations. We also identify the concepts hid-
den in ordinary moments so that we can have higher
level conversations with the children. What might we say
to Peter shortly after he lowered the slope of the ramp? If
we focus only on his success we might say, �Wow, you
did it; you made the car get to the top.� And then we
might say, �Tell me what you did to make it work.� Peter
would simply say, �I made it lower.�

But if you focus on the concept (inverse functional rela-
tion) you might say, �Wow, that�s great. Can you tell me
why lowering the ramp worked?� Peter might answer,
�It’s hard to get up a steep, steep hill.� And such conver-
sations can lead to follow-up questions about corollary
assumptions, such as, �And the car is rather weak, is that
it?� The focus on concepts asks the child to talk to us
about theories and assumptions. The focus on success
only asks the child to list the actions, such as, �I made it
We can have longer and higher level conversations with
children when we ask them to talk about their thinking
and their reasons. When we ask them to talk about what
they did there is not much more than details to talk
about, and they may not remember these details anyway.

The Competent and Autonomous Child

The child is in the moment and we are in the moment
with the child. Giving strength and value to ordinary
moments and believing in the power of these moments
gives strength and value to our image of the child as
strong, rich in resources, and competent. We give
strength to our image of the child by making the experi-
ence of the child visible for study and communication.

Making the experiences of children�s learning visible
insists that we slow down and allow time for experiences
to occur.

We can capture these experiences in photographs, slides,
and video in order to analyze and interpret them. We
revisit the work of the children, engaging in dialogue
with our colleagues, with parents, and also with the
children themselves. We study the work of the children
in order to understand the ways in which they learn, in
order to offer support to the process of learning, in order
to learn along with the children.
Sensing the value of an ordinary moment gives the
teacher confidence to let an experience unfold. Take as an
example an ordinary moment of children encountering a
pumpkin, actually captured on videotape and viewed by
teachers, parents, and children (Hall, Oleson, and Gam-
betti, 2001). Two three-year-old children wanted to move
a large pumpkin from the garden to the classroom. With
great effort they succeeded, by rolling the pumpkin that
was too heavy to lift. The teachers honored this moment
by videotaping it and adding a sound track to their
effort, Jimmy Cliff’s song, �You can do it if you really

The children loved watching this video and knew that it
documented their determination, teamwork, and accom-
plishment. Indeed, a few days later, when struggling to
put on her jeans, one of the children paused in mid-effort
to sing herself toward success, �You can do it if you
really want.� The teachers had confidence that even ordi-
nary moments can become points of reference for the
children when the unfolding moments are documented
and revisited.
As teachers, we invite you to take the ordinary moments
of your day, look closely at them, uncover the concepts
that they reveal, revisit these concepts with the children,
and use your documentation of this process as evidence
of your good work.

This article is largely based on G. Forman�s keynote address by
the same name given at the 5th Annual OMEP Hong Kong
Conference in June, 2001.

Child Care Information Exchange 9/01 — 55

eginnings W

Important Question!: These authors appeal to teachers to discover the �power of ordinary moments� for
supporting children�s construction of knowledge. Pose this question in your center�s chat room to see what
teachers think about the idea. Some other questions to ask: What is an ordinary moment? When do most
ordinary moments occur? Can the teacher�s recognition of ordinary moments lead to increasing teacher
satisfaction with teaching?

Observe to Discover the Ordinary: Encourage teachers to observe for ordinary moments in the course of
their teaching day. To practice this skill, ask teachers to do a short observation on one child in their
classroom, looking for ordinary moments. Take notes to bring to a staff meeting. At the meeting, take one
or more identified ordinary moments from the observations to see if you can discover the theory in action
and identify the concepts children are learning. Repeat this process several times until teachers feel that
they are becoming skilled in identifying ordinary moments.

Creating Better Conversations: Offer to mentor a teacher in creating better conversations. Audiotape a
teacher and a child having a conversation in the classroom. With the teacher, listen to the tape, exploring
the questions the teacher asked, the direction of the conversation, and the teacher�s ability to follow the
child�s lead. Listen for questions that might have lead to longer or higher level conversations encouraging the
child to talk about their thinking and the reasons for her or his point of view. Pose some alternative
questions that might have directed the child to talk about his or her thinking rather than what they did.
Once one teacher has experienced several opportunities to create better conversations, ask him to mentor
another teacher in improving her conversations with children.

Revisiting Competence: At the heart of this idea of ordinary moments is helping children recognize and
validate their own discoveries, enhancing their ability and motivation to continue to do so. How can teachers
revisit children�s recognition and validation of discoveries? With teachers, search for ways to document
discoveries from ordinary moments that can be revisited.


to U
se Beginnings W

orkshop to T
rainTeachers by Kay Albrecht

Please see the Beginnings Workshop article in the
March/April 2001 issue of

Child Care Information Exchange
“Including Parents in the Process of Documentation”

by Ellen Hall, Vicki Oleson, and Amelia Gambetti.

For more articles on related subjects,
visit our web site:

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Universityof Nebraska – Lincoln University of Nebraska – Lincoln

DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Faculty Publications, Department of Child,
Youth, and Family Studies Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of

October 1995

  • Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners:
  • Loris Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners: Loris

    Malaguzzi’s Philosophy of Education as Relationship Malaguzzi’s Philosophy of Education as Relationship

    Carolyn P. Edwards
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

    Follow this and additional works at:

    Part of the Family, Life Course, and Society Commons

    Edwards, Carolyn P., “Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners: Loris Malaguzzi’s Philosophy
    of Education as Relationship ” (1995). Faculty Publications, Department of Child, Youth, and Family
    Studies. 15.

    This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of at
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    Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners:
    Loris Malaguzzi’s Philosophy of Education as Relationship

    by Carolyn Pope Edwards, Willa Cather Professor

    University of Nebraska—Lincoln

    Lecture prepared for “Nostalgia del Futuro: Liberare speranze per una nuova cultura
    dell’infanzia,” an international seminar to consider the educational contributions of Loris
    Malaguzzi. University of Milano, October 16-17, 1995.

    We consider relationships to be the fundamental, organizing strategy of our
    educational system.
    Loris Malaguzzi, 1993, p. 10.

    The metaphor of education as relationship provided Loris Malaguzzi with the

    fundamental premise for his philosophy and pedagogy. The child–seen as powerful, rich in
    resources, competent, and social–seeks from the beginning of life to find out about the self,
    others, and the world through interaction: knowledge is co-constructed. Education, hence, must
    focus not on the child considered in isolation from others, but instead on the child seen as
    interconnected with particular others in nested communities: home, classroom, school,
    neighborhood, city, region, nation, and eventually extending out to include the whole world.

    This principle, that “education is relationship,” puts great priority on establishing a
    learning and caring community composed of educators, families, and children, based on sharing
    of perspectives and resources, and with expectations of continuity and long-term relationship.
    Features of the Reggio schools that promote the establishment of meaningful relationships with a
    long time horizon by and among children and adults include the system of keeping children in a
    classroom group together for the three years of the infant-toddler or preschool cycle, the system
    of also assigning two teachers to each classroom group for the full three years of the cycle, and
    emphasizing collaboration among teachers as the starting point of all learning and development
    for adults and children, many practices (at the level of physical environment, curriculum, and
    work with parents) intended to carefully and thoughtfully introduce each new child and family to
    the school community and to allow relationships among and between adults and children to grow
    and flourish, many customary curricular activities that bridge children to their near community
    (neighborhood, city, and surrounging countryside) as well as bringing the community into the
    schools and fostering the public’s interest in and commitment to the schools, the project
    approach, involving long-term, open-ended investigations, usually conducted by small work
    groups of children, and many and extensive uses of documentation to create public memories
    and a sense of belonging within each classroom group and school, and to provoke and enrich
    learning about project work among children, parents, and teachers.


    The principle of an education based on relationship refers to more than simply the
    process or social context required for education, however. The principle also has to do with the
    content of education, to what children want to learn and what teachers should be teaching in
    school. In Reggio, learning is essentially about constructing more and new connections between
    ideas–making knowledge richer, deeper, broader and more reflective of the complexities in the
    worlds of reality and imagination available to the children. The premise is that even young
    children desire contact with big, important ideas, not small, segmented bits of knowlege
    considered suitable for “young” minds:

    From the very beginning, curiosity and learning refuse simple and isolated
    things; they love to find the dimensions and relations of complex situations. (Reggio
    Emilia Department of Education, 1987, p. 19)

    [Our goal is always] to put everything together, to try to widen the power of our
    intelligence through the possibilities of relationship… . Children start to understand
    when they start to put things into relationship. And the joy of children is to put together
    things which are apparently far away!… And the more difficult is the situation–the more
    problems the children have put to themselves–then the more relationships they can make,
    the more their curiosity will grow, and the more questions they will continue to ask.
    (Malaguzzi, National Learning Center, Wash., D.C., June, 1993).

    I call the idea of education as relationship a metaphor, or vision, rather than a theory

    because Malaguzzi was not trying to create a full-fledged theory in the rigorous and formal
    sense–a body of concepts and propositions that explains facts and observations, guides the
    collection of new facts and observations, and is testable and falsifiable. Malaguzzi’s metaphor of
    education as relationship is too vague and poetic to be used to generate hypotheses and
    predictions that are testible through research, then to be either confirmed or
    disconfirmed.Nevertheless, it is more than a small or trivial idea. It represents, let us say, the
    beginning of a theory. Education as relationship is an idea with sufficient scope to point us
    toward the theory we want and need. It is capable of addressing and explaining a wide range of
    observations and processes and has comprehensive application to practical situations and
    problems. It refers simultaneously to both the social and intellectual dimensions of the teaching
    and learning process; as well as to both the beginnings (necessary preconditions) and the ends
    (goals) of education. Relationships among people and ideas are where education starts, what it is
    about, and what it is for. To quote one of his witty remarks to a seminar group in Reggio Emilia:

    We need to define the role of the adult, not as a transmitter but as a creator of
    relationships–relationships not only between people but also between things, between
    thoughts, with the environment. It’s like we need to create a typical New York City traffic
    jam in the school. (Malaguzzi, 1994, p. 56).

    To suggest what this metaphor of education as relationship is not saying, it can easily be

    contrasted with two other powerful metaphors which Malaguzzi rejected but have dominated
    recent eras of American schooling: education as socialization or cultural transmission (the
    metaphor drawn from the behaviorist and social learning psychologies); and education as
    development (drawn from the cognitive-structuralist psychologies of Jean Piaget, Lawrence
    Kohlberg, and others). The first, education as socialization or cultural transmission (the “blank
    slate,” or “empty vessel” image), was thoroughly despised by Malaguzzi for its mechanistic
    (social engineering) implications. Malaguzzi’s reactions, however, must be understood in


    context: “Malaguzzi’s behaviorism” was based on the rather doctrinaire writings of B.F. Skinner
    and other learning psychologists which he read at the time he was forming his own vision of
    education. Today, socialization is understood in a much more complex and transactional way
    that is informed by all the developmental theories, including Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky, and
    by research on the complex, interactive, biobehavioral processes that underlie development. The
    American interest in the theme of socialization is still strong and can be seen in the everlasting
    concern with prediction, outcomes, and effects–for example, in our eternal questions about what
    might be the long-term effects of quality child care, such as Reggio Emilia and other Italian
    cities provide, on children’s later performance in school, work, or family life.

    The second metaphor, education as development, was more respected by Malaguzzi and
    more influential on his thinking. It is perhaps most eloquently presented in Kohlberg’s 1971
    classic essay, “Development as the aim of education.” In this paper, Kohlberg acknowledged his
    intellectual debt to the progressive philosophers (especially John Dewey and James Mark
    Baldwin), to Jean Piaget, and George Herbert Mead, and defined development as the sequential
    movement through invariant ordered stages, encouraged by a stimulating environment that poses
    resolvable but genuine problems or conflicts, inclines children to take and to coordinate multiple
    perspectives, and makes children think in structured ways that organize both cognition and
    emotion. Kohlberg expected good schooling to accelerate this progression in the domains of
    cognitive and moral judgement development; while in the domain of ego development, he
    wanted healthy passage through stages (not acceleration), with successful integration of the
    concerns of each stage. Although aspects of the cognitive-developmental psychologies of
    Kohlberg and other neo-Piagetians have been subject to criticism and no longer seem as
    prepotent as once they did, nevertheless the vision of the active, construc-tivist child and the role
    of cognitive conflict and disequili-brium in powering cognitive growth are parts of the
    assumption structure and belief systems of many or most American early childhood educators;
    likewise, these principles (though not the linear view of development)were deeply internalized
    by Malaguzzi.

    Today, nevertheless, American educators are looking for fresh thinking. I began this
    paper asking myself the question: Why do so many of my fellow early childhood educators
    seem to find Malaguzzi’s messages and philosophy important, energizing, persuasive, and
    inspiring? One answer, certainly, has to do with his poetic, metaphorical, and lyrical language,
    for example, in describing the nature of the child as strong and powerful, rich in resources and
    competencies. This language and imagery resonates with many teachers’ professional optimism
    about human potential and their intuitive preference for holistic rather than analytic and
    reductionist views of the child. Beyond that, however, there is the theme of education as
    relationship, including notions about the particular forms of democratic participation and
    community considered desirable for children and adults in the Reggio schools.

    These ideas seem to evoke an instant sense of recognition and approval from the
    American audiences with whom I speak. This may be because of common roots: Malaguzzi’s
    ideas descend from (owe an acknowledged debt to) great ideas in the history of American
    progressive education (John Dewey and David Hawkins) and are cousins to the contemporary
    psychologies of Howard Gardner and Urie Bronfenbrenner. But it is not as if these ideas are
    relics of the dead past; for progressive education is currently enjoying another of its periodic
    times of ascendancy and influence. Today, because of the problems and sense of “crisis” that
    face us concerning schooling in America, much that has been accepted in traditional education is
    being questioned, challenged, and debated; educators who can be classified as “progressives”


    are again leading many small and large-scale innovations in classrooms, schools, districts, and

    Included in virtually all of these experiments, reforms, and systematic restructurings are
    concepts and proposals to dramatically change the social relations in and around schools and
    make them authentic “communities.” For example, one major vision statement recently put
    forward is called The Basic School: A Community for Learning by Ernest Boyer (1995) of the
    Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For the last several years, Boyer has led
    a massive collaborative effort to visit elementary schools, talk to parents and teachers, and search
    the research literature for what works best. He concludes:

    But if all children are to be ready for school, surely all schools must be ready for
    children…. An effective school connects people, to create community. An effective
    school connects the curriculum, to create coherence. An effective school connects
    classrooms and resources, to enrich the learning climate. And an effective school
    connects learning to life, to build character (pp. xviii, 8).

    Indeed, the words, “community,” and to a certain extent, “relationship,” seem to be on

    everyone’s lips, and Malaguzzi’s conceptualizations bear striking parallels with much of the new
    theorizing about educational community. Malaguzzi was not actually right when he joked that
    John Dewey was more alive in the Reggio Emilia schools than in the United States. Rather,
    Dewey’s ideas are carried in the intellectual chromosomes of every American educator and his
    works continue to be revisited and reinterpreted every generation. And yet, despite all the
    discussion, creating community is very difficult to achieve in practice in American schools–
    given that many children, not to mention teachers, are highly mobile and transient, and
    moreover, many of the organizational elements in schools work toward increased fragmentation
    and segmentation of knowledge and social relations. This paper will explore some examples of
    the best current thinking about educational community going on in the United States, and
    analyze whether and how Malaguzzi’s vision anticipates this work and contributes to the

    The Four Communities

    This paper will examine, in turn, several discussions about community in early childhood
    classrooms: (1) the moral community (as put forward by Piagetian educator, Rheta DeVries, with
    her colleague, Betty Zan, 1994); (2) the community of inquiry (as discussed by analytic
    educational philosopher, David Kennedy, 1994); and (3) the community of learners (as described
    by Vygotskian cognitive-anthropologist, Barbara Rogoff, 1994). All three involve notions about
    young children and adults as co-participants in democratic communities, and indicate many areas
    of theoretical agreement and overlap with Malaguzzi’s concepts.

    Yet, they differ in some of their assumptions about the temporal and spatial dimensions
    of community, and they do involve different notions of what democratic participation is about.
    Thus, to conclude where these different discussions lead us and where they leave us, a fourth
    proposal will be presented–not of democratic participation in schools but rather in society–
    involving a concept of the responsive (or civic) community (put forward by social scientists,
    Amitai Etzioni (1994), Robert Putnam (1993, 1995a,1995b), and Francis Fukuyama, 1995). If
    the moral community, community of inquiry, and community of learners are alternative ways to
    think about children’s participation in democratic communities, then the responsive community


    presents a severe critique of what kind of participation our contemporary American democracy
    needs from its citizens.

    It has long been an accepted belief by the American public that the schools must and

    should prepare students for future citizenship in a participatory democracy. Further, what this
    preparation consists of has also been widely understood: Students must be prepared to become
    informed and active voters, who seek and then use their best knowledge to make informed and
    educated choices and decisions. Education for democracy, then, traditionally has been
    concerned with preparing individuals to become autonomous, self-regulated, and informed
    decision-makers. But is this really enough? That is the question raised by Etzioni, Putnam, and

    The Moral Community

    The moral classroom, as outlined by DeVries and Zan (1994) (based on their work in
    schools in the city of Houston, Texas) is a direct application of the cognitive-structural theories
    of moral judgement development and education of Piaget and Kohlberg. DeVries and Zan go so
    far as to state that the unifying theme of their work is development as the aim of education. The
    most desirable school atmosphere is one that optimally promotes all the areas of development–
    social, moral, affective, and intellectual (p.3). Such a school, they say, is not a “boot camp”
    (where the teacher takes the role of “drill sergeant”), and not a “factory” (with the teacher as
    “manager”), but rather a “community” (with the teacher as “mentor”). The key to this
    community is the establishment of a sociomoral atmosphere based on respect:

    The sociomoral atmosphere is the entire network of interpersonal relations that make up
    a child’s experience of school. This experience includes the child’s relationship with the
    teacher, with other children, with academics, and with rules (DeVries & Zan, 1994, p. 7).

    It is the teacher who establishes the sociomoral atmosphere by organizing the room and
    relating to children in controlling or cooperative ways. In the moral community, an atmosphere
    of cooperation prevails. The teacher seeks to optimize interaction among and between the
    teacher and children, and to maximize the group’s opportunities to confront problems with
    constructive activity. Many events of the classroom day can be structured so at to make them
    moments for cooperation. Particularly fruitful opportunities include grouptime, guidance and
    discipline situations, conflict resolution, decision-making, rule-making, voting, and engaging in
    open-ended discussions of social and moral problems, either hypothetical or actual (Edwards,
    1986). The teacher takes as the curriculum the social life of the classroom and aims to make the
    classroom a democratic, just community (Kohlberg and Lickona, 1987). “The resulting
    sociomoral atmosphere is one of vitality and energy invested in the experience of being together”
    (p. 53), where social relationships are characterized by relative equality and by the reciprocity
    conducive to decentering and perspective-taking.

    These notions are surely similar to Malaguzzi’s views. What is dissimilar, however, is
    that DeVries and Zan define the network of cooperative relations as composed of just two major
    building blocks: the teacher-child relation, and children’s peer relations. Although they say they
    assume that both teacher and child may bring the influence of other relationships into the
    classroom atmosphere, they consider these other relationships (such as parent-child, teacher-
    principal, and teacher-teacher) to be subsidiary and unimportant. The classroom (or at most, the
    school) is expected to achieve its status as a just and moral community separate from all external


    relations. There is no understanding of the necessary triangulation of relationships between and
    among three sets of partners–children, families, and educators, as in gestione sociale,–nor any
    sense of how the classroom and school are nested inside a graduated series of circles–the
    communities of neighborhood, city, region, country, and world, that together provide the moral
    maps, connections, and supports without which what goes on in the classroom and school
    becomes, precisely, meaning-less.

    Moreover, the whole purpose of social relationships in DeVries and Zan’s moral
    community is different from Malaguzzi’s vision, because their ultimate function is to help
    promote morally autonomous individuals–in the Piagetian sense of persons who have the
    capacity for self-regulated and self-constructed principled reasoning about rules. The vision is
    profoundly individualistic, in that the community exists to provoke and stimulate growth
    processes in the individual; and it is constructivist, but it is not social-constructivist.

    The Community of Inquiry

    Closer to Malaguzzi’s vision of education as relationship is David Kennedy’s (1994a,
    1994b, 1995, in press) discussion of the community of inquiry. The term, “community of
    inquiry,” was first used by the American pragmatic philosopher, Charles Saunders Pierce.
    Matthew Lipman (1991) is known for defining this concept for our era, in a synthesis of
    elements of the thought of Pierce, Dewey, Paul Schilder, Josiah Royce, G. H. Mead, Justus
    Buchler, and Lev Vygotsky (Kennedy, 1995). The community of inquiry is conceptualized as
    participatory, transactional, and transformative–based on interaction, dialogue, and
    collaboration among meaning-makers. In Kennedy’s writings are many fascinating texts
    showing the kind of high level philosophic discussions that can take place among teachers and
    very young children. Such discussions, however, do not fully compose or create the community
    of inquiry. The discussions cannot exist without a supportive classroom context: They are part
    of life in a transformed classroom or school community– conceived to be a total departure from
    traditional schooling with its rigid hierarchies, one-way environments, lockstep curricula, and
    insensitivity to individual differences. At the same time, the community of inquiry is not
    sufficient by itself to create such a transformed community; inquiry is only one dimension of the
    larger work of community-building which must take place across all domains of school life.

    In the inquiring classroom, teachers engage in many forms of co-action with children–
    observing, modeling, nurturing, interpreting, facilitating, and provoking. The glue that holds this
    community together and directs it forward is self-critical practice–inquiry with and by children.
    The children and adults together achieve moments of intersubjectivity based on five kinds of
    sharing of meanings–what Kennedy calls the communities of gesture, language, mind, emotions,
    and interests. These kinds of sharing of meaning seem to closely resemble what Malaguzzi was
    pointing to in his favorite image of the “hundred languages.” The sharing of meanings through
    gesture and language create a community of mind. The sharing of mind is not merely
    intellectual but involves an emotional dimension; the children experience a joining of feeling, in
    the sense of a transformation felt by the group members as a sense of wholeness with others,
    beauty and harmony, and mutual affinity. The individual does not disappear or recede, however,
    but rather seeks to count and be heard, to make a difference, and to achieve influence and
    recognition in the group through dialogue and negotiation and a (at least partial) sharing of
    interests and goals–what Italians call becoming a “protagonist.”

    It is evident that the community of inquity goes beyond DeVries and Zan’s moral


    community is in its social constructivism. As Kennedy (1994a) says:

    [T]he individual cannot know reality adequately; therefore inquiry must be a communal
    venture… the whole has an emergent character that transcends any individual. (p.3).

    The communal question-asking and dialogue, the seeking of always temporary “truths,”
    must be genuinely emergent and open-ended, in a way that involves not only the children but
    also the adults. What Kennedy finds most important about the Reggio Emilia approach is its
    collaborative vision of participating adults who jointly co-construct over time a common image
    of teaching and learning, and who realize that no current construction is ever final. The
    community of inquiry is certainly a more expansive community than the moral classroom is
    terms of the relationships that constitute it and in its much more open-ended and spiralling
    approach to time:

    A growing body of research on teacher planning and teacher thinking suggests that
    experienced teachers do not proceed in a linear fashion when planning for teaching.
    Instead, they plan in ways that are significantly more recursive and cyclical, more
    learner-centered, and structured around larger chunks of content and time than those of
    the single lesson. (Cochran-Smith, 1995, p. 495).

    The community of inquiry, then, goes beyond the moral community in being something
    always ongoing, open-ended, greater than the sum of its parts, “a horizon of meaning larger than
    any of our individual perspectives.”

    When this happens, the school ceases being simply an agent of reproduction for society
    and becomes capable of playing a transformative role (Kennedy, 1995). Ideally, the relationship
    between tradition and change is positive: the school both reproduces and transforms, in an
    emergent, equilibrative balance. Where reproduction alone predominates, there is stagnation and
    mediocrity; where innovation alone predominates, there is chaos. Kennedy asks: What balance
    does Reggio Emilia represent?

    The Community of Learners

    The term, “community of learners,” is a general term widely used today, for instance, by
    Ernest Boyer, in The Basic School. Barbara Rogoff’s (1994) particular contribution departs from
    the cognitive-structuralist view of development as discovery of knowledge, and instead takes a
    neo-Vygotskian view of development as transformation of participation, wherein both autonomy
    and responsibility are desired. Rogoff (1990) believes that learning occurs whenever people
    participate in shared endeavors with others, with all participants playing active but often
    asymmetrical roles. In different models of schooling, however, children play different roles in
    the process of learning and as a result learn different ways to relate to what they have learned as
    well as to the community in which this learning is important, through their varying participation
    in the process of learning. Rogoff, as an anthropologist, assumes that each way of organizing
    learning has its own particular benefits, values, and usefulness; in other words, there is no one
    right way correct for all times and places, but the choices that communities make do have
    consequences for the development of their children.

    For example, in instruction based on a transmission theory (adult-run instruction), the
    students learn the information to be able to demonstrate that it has been encoded and


    retained, in response to tests evaluating the transmission piece by piece. In instruction
    based on an acquisition theory (children-run instruction) the students learn the
    information as they explore in idiosyncratic ways that are not necessarily connected to
    the uses to which the information is historically or currently put in the adult world. In
    instruction based on a participation theory (community of learners instruction), students
    learn the information as they collaborate with other children and with adults in carrying
    out activities with purposes connected explicitly with the history and current practices of
    the community. (Rogoff, 1994, p. 2).

    In the community of learners, all participants are active: no one has predominant
    responsibility. As participants move from being newcomers to becoming experienced members
    of the community, they take a more and more active role in managing their learning and
    coordinating with other people (both children and adults), who also contribute to the direction of
    activities and provide guidance. Rogoff describes these processes in detail in her paper, using as
    an example a public elementary school in the city of Salt Lake City, Utah, run cooperatively by
    parents and teachers, with parents spending three hours per week (per child) in the classroom
    contributing to instruction, curriculum decisions, and classroom management. Rogoff herself
    was a parent “co-oper” at this school for ten years, and organized a collaborative team of
    university researchers and teachers to conduct a four-year study of the school as a culture.

    What is especially interesting from our point of view is that Rogoff’s description of the
    transformation of participation provides her theory of community with an idea of how
    relationships can begin, or better yet, continue beginning, at the same time as they are evolving
    and emerging. Returning to DeVries and Zan’s “moral classroom,” we now see how it seems
    outside time–as if it exists in an eternal present moment, with no past, and no future. Kennedy
    and Lipman’s “community of inquiry,” in contrast, at least is emergent–it goes forward in time,
    and provides a process (“the inquiry project”) by which the community collectively progresses.
    But the “community of learners,” at last, most fully grapples with the realities of change over
    time by providing a way to think about the fact that the membership of the community
    continually rolls over and changes as old members (children and their parents) leave and new
    members come in, and that this transformation of participation is where education starts and
    what it is for. “Development as the aim of education” takes on a new meaning that is less
    individualistic than in Piagetian constructivist theories.

    As we know, Malaguzzi never saw the developing child as an ideally autonomous
    learner, but rather saw education as a necessarily communal activity and symphony of
    subjectivities involving children and adults. He saw long-term and meaningful relationships
    between and among children, teachers, and parents as the necessary precondition for the
    flowering of communication, co-action, and reciprocity. Assuming the benefits of the prevailing
    Italian practice of keeping together teachers and children for a three-year cycle, he rationalized
    this practice by saying it makes possible the greatest density, richness, and complexity of
    communications, negotiations, and collaborative problem-solving. The three years spent
    together allow the group to construct a history of relationship and a sharing of culture that
    creates the sense of community and guarantees the quality of life and well-being for children as
    part of families. The goals of intensifying interaction and enhanching community lead teachers
    to systematically enact many events and activities that successfully introduce new children and
    families, provide mentoring for inexperienced teachers, heighten sharing and continuity of
    memories and expectations by means of documentation, and create drama and climax in times of
    transition and culmination. In general, all periods of beginning and ending are treated as times


    of great delicacy and given special forms of attention which prolong their duration, embed them
    into rituals and symbolisms, and render them communal rather than individual experiences.
    Times of beginning, transition, and ending are addressed with care and respect, and subjected to
    layering, intensification, and multiplication of collective experience.

    The Responsive, or Civic, Community

    Rogoff’s conception of development as transformation of participation, finally, brings us
    to the fourth version of community and to larger questions about what kind of participation it is
    that contemporary democratic societies want and need from their people. Today, these questions
    are being widely discussed in the United States. In my opinion, the discussion of the “civic” or
    “responsive community” offers an entry point of exceptional promise toward thinking more
    usefully about democratic participation in schools.

    The concept of the civic or responsive community does not actually come from
    educators, and its discussion and debate is taking place largely outside the professional arena, in
    the public domain. In a rather unusual and surprising way, several books and academic journal
    articles have been widely reviewed and their central ideas considered in national media,
    including newspapers, magazines, and public broadcasting shows. Works most quoted and
    influential in this public discussion include The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities,
    and the Communitarian Agenda, by sociologist, Amitai Etzioni (1993); Making Democracy
    Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (and “Bowling Alone,” 1995), by political scientist,
    Robert Putnam (1993); and Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity by social
    scientist, Francis Fukuyama (1995).

    The thesis of Etzioni is that, in order to restore and revive American society and to
    protect the moral, social, and political environments, the citizenry needs to find a better balance
    between claims to rights, on the one hand, and the assumption of responsibilities, on the other.
    Generally accepted obligations and responsibilities to others and to the common good have
    tended to recede, as ideas about individual rights and entitlements have tended to expand, to
    penetrate everyday discourse, and to become the preferred currency of discourse whenever a
    person or group wishes to justify a claim to resources or privileges. Both the right and left sides
    of the political spectrum share the blame for this evolutionary trend, insofar as both sides tend to
    believe that the community is coercive, that government (“Big Brother”) should be distrusted,
    and that the greater good is best served if only individuals are left free to pursue their own
    choices, rational self-interests, rights, and identities. In 1990, Etzioni called together a group of
    fifteen ethicists, social philosophers, and social scientists to Washington, D.C., to found a critical
    group called the Communitarians; in January, 1991, they published their first statement in the
    form of a quarterly publication called The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities,
    which has strongly influenced President Bill Clinton, among others.

    Robert Putnam, scholar at Harvard University, has become known for his writings about
    social capital and the “civic community.” Social capital (James Coleman’s term) refers to
    people’s ability and dispositions to work together for common purposes in groups and
    organizations; people with this virtue can associate and cooperate with others outside of their
    kinship unit and create enduring organized patterns of social solidarity. A strong civic
    community involves rich horizontal networks of engagement, reciprocity, and cooperation,
    rather than vertical hierarchies of authority and dependency.


    For a variety of reasons, life is easier in a community blessed with a substantial stock of
    social capital. In the first place, networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of
    generalized reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust. Such networks
    facilitate coordination and communication, amplify reputations, and thus allow dilemmas
    of collective action to be resolved. When economic and political negotiation is embedded
    in dense networks of social interaction, incentives for opportunism are reduced. At the
    same time, networkds of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration, which
    can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration. Finally, dense networks of
    interaction probably broaden the participants’ sense of self, developing the “I” into a
    “we,” or (in the language of rational-choice theorists) enhancing the participants’ “taste”
    for collective benefits. (Putnam, 1995b, p. 20).

    Putnam has measured the institutional performance of the various Italian regional
    governments since 1970, and finds certain regions (for instance, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna–
    generally those of La Terza Italia), to be the strongest. These regions, it is shown, have the most
    effective and honest regional and local officials, the most efficient services, and the most civic
    engagement, as indexed by high voter turnouts, newspaper readership, membership in clubs and
    associations, and expecta-tions of honesty by local government officials. People revere their
    traditions of collective organization whether in political unions or the many kinds of economic
    cooperatives (agricultural, marketing, credit, labor, producer, and consumer unions and
    cooperatives). They see these cooperative tendencies as not of recent origin but rather trace
    them to the communal republics and such associations as the craft guilds of medieval times.

    Indeed, words frequently heard from Malaguzzi and Reggio teachers are “civic” and
    “civil” (e.g. the child has rights to civility, to civilization, and to civic life). The first catalog of
    the Reggio Emilia Exhibit, L’occhio se salta il muro, opens with a statement drawing connections
    between the economic cooperatives and the principles underlying the municipal schools:

    Cooperating means working together, collaborating, helping each other. It was precisely
    to help one another and defend themselves from exploitation and speculation that the
    Emilia farmers created the first cooperatives… The experience of the United Cooperative
    Dairies may be traced back to the same principles which have made possible the
    encouraging and useful experience undertaken and directed by the municipal primary
    and nursery schools in Reggio Emilia. (Reggio Emilia Dept. of Education, 1984, p. 8).

    One reason that Putnam’s work has received so much attention in America is that he has

    also compiled data that point to a striking decline in civic community in the United States. Since
    the 1950’s, social forces such as the increase in women’s employment and captivating home
    entertainment (television) have caused Americans to retreat from their historic pattern of high
    civic association (extolled by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. Involvement has
    dramatically declined in all sorts of voluntary associations, including church-related groups,
    school-service groups (parent-teacher associations), labor and political unions, professional
    societies, fraternal organizations and service clubs (Elks, Lions, Scouts, American Red Cross),
    veterans clubs, and sports clubs. This decline of participations results in weakening
    communities of shared values, and people become less able and willing to extend themselves in
    face-to-face encounters to thrash out problems and find ways to compromise private interests for
    the sake of larger and common goals.

    Francis Fukuyama of the Rand Corporation has continued these themes in his book,


    Trust, in which he compares the economic success of countries, and claims that prosperity in
    democracies is generated by the strength of civil society, as seen in the intermediate institutions
    and private groups that thrive between the realm of the state and the family. Civil institutions
    create a culture of trust in others outside the kinship unit–trust which is able to be mobilized in
    ways unique to each national context:

    If the institutions of democracy and capitalism are to work properly, they must coexist
    with certain premodern cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning. Law,
    contract, and economic rationality provide a necessary but not sufficient basis for both
    the stability and prosperity of postindustrial societies; they must as well be leavened with
    reciprocity, moral obligation, duty towards community, and trust, which are based in
    habit rather than rational calculation. (Fukuyama, 1995, p. 11).

    Fukuyama agrees with Putnam that American society is finally becoming as
    individualistic as Americans (heretofore falsely) always believed it was: “the inherent trend of
    rights-based liberalism to expand and multiply those rights against the authority of virtually all
    existing communities has been pushed toward its logical conclusion” (p. 10); this snow-balling
    individualism is implicated in the increases in violent crime, litigiousness, and goverernment
    distrust, breakdown of family structures, decline of civic participation, and the general national
    malaise and pessimism.


    If the social scientists’ analysis of changing patterns of civic participation is correct, and
    weakening community engagement undermines democratic participation in modern America,
    then the implications for supporting community in schools are clear. First, given all of the social
    and technological forces that tend to worsen the amounts of fragmentation, segmentation, and
    isolation in the lives of children and their families, it is worthwhile to try to counteract such
    trends and model the value of community by strengthening all the partnerships and networks
    within and surrounding schools. As many school reformers have convincingly demonstrated,
    schools and child care centers can be focal points for interaction and social connection in the
    neighborhood and create a sense of belonging for many children, parents, teachers, and
    community members. We need to reject a vision of moral community or community of inquiry
    that is focused on the individual classroom and on social relationships involving one teacher and
    a group of children and instead think about the classroom as existing within nests of surrounding
    communities. In thinking about how to create and sustain an emergent learning community
    where both children and adults enter into dialogue and collaboration, we need to think about the
    time of relationships (or “time in relationships”) in more extended and extensive, particularized
    and contextualized, cyclical and open-ended ways; and do what we can to increase the stability,
    continuity over time, and multifacedness of children’s friendships and attachments.

    Second, we need to rethink the goals of participation in democratic school communities
    with respect to the developing individual. Instead of assuming that the purpose is to help that
    individual become an autonomous and self-regulated decision-maker (the “informed voter”), we
    need to start from the point of view that democratic citizenship is fundamentally about
    participation–becoming a protagonist in a group, a community whose participation is continually
    transformed by, and transforms, the directions and activities taken. The goal, therefore, is
    interdependence rather than independence, and the child who can think “with others” rather than
    “for himself or herself” is the one who best exemplifies the gift bestowed by education as





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    Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2, Winter 2001 ( 2001)

    Environmental Education

    The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children:
    The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary
    School Children

    Ingunn Fjørtoft1

    INTRODUCTION have experienced positive results from being outdoors
    in natural environments, but only a few studies have

    Norwegian studies have revealed a disquieting ten-
    been done in this field (Bang et al., 1989; Fjørtoft, 1999;

    dency that children are becoming more sedentary in
    Grahn et al., 1997). We know far too little about how

    their adolescence. They spend more time, approximately
    the natural environment functions as a playground for

    three hours a day, on TV, video, and electronic media
    children, and we know even less about what effects such

    (MMI, 1995). The movement pattern of children has
    a playground might have on learning in children. The

    changed remarkably the last 10–20 years. The unorgani-
    physical outdoor environment, and the natural environ-

    sed traditional games, which included lots of moving
    ment in particular, as a play habitat for children, has

    around, are now changing into sitting in front of your
    been a topic of low priority in child research (Bjerke,

    private computer playing computer games. Such scenar-

    ios have resulted in several health hazards like increas-
    ing obesity in early childhood (Anderson et al., 1998),

    THE AFFORDANCE OF NATUREand motor problems in children are reported in several
    Scandinavian studies (Due et al., 1991; Hertzberg, 1985; Natural environments represent dynamic and rough
    Gilberg and Rasmussen, 1982; Kjos, 1992; Ropeid, playscapes that challenge motor activity in children. The
    1997). However, a recent study of the physical activity topography, like slopes and rocks, afford natural obsta-
    among 3–7 years old Norwegian children (MMI, 1997) cles that children have to cope with. The vegetation pro-
    showed that 75% of the children spend some time out- vides shelters and trees for climbing. The meadows are
    doors by their own every day. The most active ones for running and tumbling. Description of physical envi-
    practiced several outdoor activities such as skiing and ronments usually focuses almost exclusively on forms.
    hiking in the wilderness, climbing trees, enjoying water Heft (1988) suggested an alternative approach to de-
    activities, and soccer in the field. Four out of ten chil- scribe the environment, which focused on function
    dren expressed a wish for more time for physical activity rather than form. The functional approach corresponds
    (Hansen, 1999), but children complain about the lack of better to the children’s relations to their environment.
    suitable arenas for play and free time activities, such as Intuitively children use their environment for physical
    grounds for climbing, building dens, sliding, and skiing challenges and play; they perceive the functions of the
    (Mjaavatn, 1999). Francis (1988) argued that children’s landscape and use them for play. The central concept
    play in an unstructured environment, preferably a natu- guiding children’s examination of their environment is
    ral one, gives the children a genuine understanding of that of affordance. Gibson (1979) developed the concept
    reality. Rivkin (1990, 1995) highlights the values of out- “affordance” to describe an awareness of the environ-
    door play, but regrets that children’s access to outdoor ments and their functional significance, or their func-
    play habitats are vanishing. tional meaning. For example if a rock is big enough to

    Several kindergartens in the Scandinavian countries fit the hand, it might be perceived as an object to grasp
    or to throw; it affords grasping or throwing. A tree that
    is appropriately branched and stemmed, will likewise be1Address correspondence to Ingunn Fjørtoft, Tel.: + 47 35026333, Fax:
    perceived as climb-on-able; it affords climbing-on. Na-+ 47 35026201; e-mail:; Telemark University

    College, Department of Teacher Training, 3679 Notodden, Norway. ture provides an environment with such possibilities and

    1082-3301/01/1200-0111$19.50/0  2001 Human Sciences Press, Inc.


    affordances. Frost (1992) introduced the concept “play- might be characterized as quasi-experimental approach
    (Robson, 1993, Thomas & Nelson, 1985). The groupsscape” to describe different play environments. He ar-

    gued that natural features are important qualities of play- were selected from three kindergartens equal in age
    groups. The experimental group of 46 children from onegrounds, and that the natural features allow a wide range

    of learning opportunities not available from other play- kindergarten was offered free play and versatile activi-
    ties in the forest next to the kindergarten. The experi-ground options. Hart (1979) and Moore (1986) have de-

    scribed the children’s preferences of wilderness and un- mental group used the forest every day for 1–2 hours
    throughout the year when they attended the kindergarten.structured landscapes for play.

    In Scandinavia it has become popular for kinder- Only randomly they used the outdoor playground inside
    the kindergarten fence. As reference group 29 childrengartners to spend more time outdoors in the natural envi-

    ronment. Some kindergartens are organized as outdoor of the same age groups from two kindergartens in the
    neighbouring district were chosen. The groups wereschools, where the children, aged three to six, spend all

    or most of the day outdoors in a natural environment. checked out for differences in socioeconomic living con-
    ditions by multiple regression analysis, using parents’ ed-Playing in a natural environment seems to have positive

    effects on children; they become more creative in their ucational and professional background as variables. The
    reference group used their traditional outdoor playgroundplay, and play activities and play forms are increasing.

    It is also indicated that absence due to sicknesses is for 1–2 hours a day and visited natural sites only occa-
    sionally. Both groups had the same standard playgroundlower among children in outdoor kindergartens than in

    the traditional ones (Grahn et al., 1997, Söderström, equipment, such as sandpit, a swing, a seesaw, a slide
    and a climbing house in their outdoor play ground. The1998). Not the least it is evident that the children’s mo-

    tor fitness is improved. They move easily around in a study started with a pretest in September. The treatment
    period lasted for nine months, and was terminated with arugged terrain and cope with physical challenges, which

    improve their motor ability (Fjørtoft, 1999, Grahn et al., posttest in June the following year.
    Both groups were tested with the EUROFIT: Eu-1997). Although few in number, these studies indicate

    that the natural environment is a stimulating arena for ropen Test of Physical Fitness, the Motor Fitness Test
    (Adam et al., 1988). The test included the following testlearning in general, and for motor fitness training in par-

    ticular. The present research corroborates the main find- items: Flamingo balance test (standing on one foot) for
    testing of general balance, Plate tapping (rapid tappingings.
    of two plates alternatively with preferred hand) measur-
    ing the speed of limb movement. Sit and reach ex-

    VERSATILE PLAY IN THE NATURAL pressed flexibility in knee and thigh joints. Standing
    ENVIRONMENT AND THE IMPACT ON broad jump ( jumping for distance from a standing start)
    CHILDREN’S MOTOR DEVELOPMENT measured explosive strength. Sit-ups (maximum num-

    bers of sit-ups achievable in half a minute) measured
    Objectives trunk strength. Bent arm hang (maintaining a bent arm

    position while hanging from a bar) for testing of func-The notion that versatile play in a natural environ-
    tional strength in arm and shoulder, and Shuttle run (ament might have an impact on children’s development
    running and turning, shuttle, test at maximum speed)constituted the background for the present study. The
    testing running speed and agility. Two additional testsaim of the study was to investigate how children’s play-
    were introduced: Beam walking for testing dynamic bal-ing in the natural environment might stimulate their mo-
    ance and Indian skip (clapping right knee with left handtor fitness and it was decided to focus on the affordances
    and vice versa), which tested cross coordination (Fjør-of the landscape and the correlation for versatile play.
    toft, in press).The main objectives were, 1) to focus on the affordances

    Data analyses were performed according to the sta-of the landscape for versatile play and, 2) to examine
    tistical programme SPSS/PC+, the PC version of thethe impact of outdoor play activities in children’s motor
    Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (Norusis,ability and mastering.
    1993; Frude, 1993). Frequency analyses, means and the
    T-test for independent samples and paired samples, cor-

    relations; multiple regression analyses and factor analy-
    ses were applied for data processing (Fjørtoft, in prep.).An experimental study was carried out with five-

    to seven-year-old children in kindergartens in Telemark, In this article the main findings of the study will be
    presented.Norway. Because of the lack of randomization, the study

    113The Natural Environment as a Playground

    Results tumn time were all located behind and above and close
    to the kindergarten area. This area included 5 different
    types of woodland, the low-herb woodland being the

    The Study Area

    The site of the investigation was a small forest of dominant type of vegetation, see Figure 2. The mixture
    of woodland types represented a high diversity in vege-7.7 hectars of mixed woodland vegetation, located close

    to a kindergarten in Bø, Telemark County in Norway. tation elements.
    The variety of woodland vegetation and the physi-The landscape pattern showed a mosaic of patches of

    woodland with some open spaces of rocks and open ognomy of trees and shrubs in the area made the afford-
    ances for play and play habitats an offer of multiplefields and meadows in between. The topography, ex-

    pressed as slope and roughness, was varied with some choices. The shrubs constituted a mixture of scattered
    species, which afforded shelter and hiding, social play,steep cliffs, slopes, and plains. Vegetation and topogra-

    phy jointly afforded a diversity of play habitats for the and construction play. Very special was the flexible ju-
    niper bush, which motivated for functional play (how tochildren (Fjørtoft & Sageie, 2000). The forest was lo-

    cated outside the fence and behind the kindergarten get in and out) and social play (play house) as well.
    Some trees were suitable for climbing depending on the(Figure 1). In the closest parts the children were allowed

    to go at will, but in the farther parts the children had to branching pattern, the stem diameter, and the flexibility
    of the tree. The young deciduous trees were easily acces-be accompanied by adults.
    sible for climbing (Figure 3).

    The spruces were more suitable for hiding than for
    Play Habitats

    climbing due to the dense branches. The more open areas
    in the pine and low-herb woodland afforded running,The children more frequently used some favorite

    places in the forest. These play habitats were located chase and catch, leapfrog, play tag, and other games that
    an open space can afford. The shrubs afforded hide-and-close to the kindergarten and represented specific play

    habitats for summer and winter play activities (Fig. 2). seek, building dens and shelters and role-play like house-
    and-home, pirates, fantasy, and function play (Figure 4).The play habitats used in the spring, summer and au-

    Fig. 1. The kindergarten and the forest.


    play like building snow figures and dens. The genuine
    winter habitat was a meadow located next to the kinder-
    garten and comprised a soccer field and the lower parts
    of a ski jump arena (Figure 2). These fields were used
    by the kindergarten almost solely as a skiing arena in
    the winter. For children at the age of 5–7 years the more
    gentle slopes of the ski-jump arena were used for differ-
    ent skiing disciplines (Figure 6).

    Motor Ability

    The groups matched in age with a mean age of 6.1
    years and there were no significant differences in age
    between the groups. It was the six-year-olds that domi-
    nated both groups. The sex distribution in the groups
    showed a predominance of boys in the experimental
    group (27 boys, 19 girls), while in the reference group
    there were more girls (18 girls and 11 boys). There were
    no significant differences in test results between the
    sexes. Body mass and height did not show any signifi-

    Fig. 2. The forest. Vegetation map. Playscapes indicated by grey color.

    The topography was undulating with terraces and
    slopes and a dominant cliff traversing the area, which
    afforded slopes for sliding and cliffs for climbing (Fig-
    ure 5).

    The children’s favorite places were named “The
    Cone War,” The Space Ship,” and “The Cliff.” The
    naming itself is illustrative for the activities taking place
    there. Free play fostered creative play, and the playscape
    afforded loose parts and natural objects and materials to
    play with. Play activities were observed related to the
    affordances of the vegetation and the topography (Fjør-
    toft & Sageie, 2000).

    The play habitats in the forest were also used dur-
    ing the wintertime, but their functional use was differ-
    ent. The cliff turned into sliding slopes of different cate-
    gories. With appropriate clothing with oilskins (trousers
    for wet climate), the children made high-speed competi-
    tions in different sliding disciplines: on their backs, on
    their stomachs, feet first, head first, and so on. The steep
    slope afforded shorter but more challenging rides. The
    deep snow provided affordances for tumbling, rolling,
    and other acrobatics. A dense snow layer made the trees
    more accessible for climbing. The play categories in the
    forest during the winter season can be categorized as
    functional play (climbing, crawling, making angels in
    the snow, etc.), role-play like play house, construction Fig. 3. Climbing trees.

    115The Natural Environment as a Playground

    Fig. 4. Hiding and role-play.

    cant differences between the groups, neither between the
    sexes. Multiple regression analyses correlating test re-
    sults with background variables, such as parents’ educa- Fig. 6. Ski-jumper.
    tion and profession, showed that these variables had no
    significant influence on the test results (Fjørtoft, in

    reach) were found within the experimental group. Theprep.).
    improvement within the reference group was not asDuring the trial period a gradual improvement in
    striking (Table 1).motor ability was observed in the experimental group.

    Comparing the groups at the posttest, significantThe children became strikingly better at mastering a rug-
    differences in favor of the experimental group wereged ground and unstructured landscape. The impact of
    found in the Flamingo balance test (p < .001) and thethe environment on the children’s motor ability was doc- Indian skip coordination test (p < .01). Figure 7 showsumented in the motor fitness tests. Table 1 and Figure 7 the interference effects from pre- to posttest in bothshow the main test results of motor development in the groups, showing a significant better improvement in thegroups. experimental group in those two items.At the pretest the reference group scored better than

    the experimental group (Table 1). At the posttest the
    experimental group had caught up with the reference DISCUSSION
    group and significant differences between the pre- and

    This study has described the relationship betweenposttest in all the test items except for flexibility (sit and
    the structure and functions of a natural landscape, its
    affordances for play, and the impact on motor develop-
    ment in children. A significant relation between the di-
    versity of the landscape and the affordance of play was
    indicated (Fjørtoft & Sageie, 2000). As described by
    Gibson (1979) the affordances of a landscape are what
    it offers the child. As the child perceives the functions
    of a landscape and uses it for play, the landscape might
    have a functional impact on children’s behavior and play
    performance. As maintained by Moore and Wong
    (1997) the physical diversity increases the opportunities
    for learning and development. This was also verified by
    the findings of the present study. The motor fitness tests
    showed a general tendency that the children using the
    forest as a playscape performed better in motor skills
    than the children on the traditional playground. At theFig. 5. Climbing rocks.


    Table I. Pre- and posttest. Mean results (SE) within the groups SPSS T-test for paired samples



    FLAMINGO (no. of instabilities in 30 sec.) 4.7 (0.8) 1.5 (0.3)*** 4.0 (0.6) 3.3 (0.7)
    PLATE TAPPING (Time in sec. of 50 taps) 35.0 (1.9) 28.1 (1.2)*** 29.9 (1.1) 27.4 (2.6)
    SIT AND REACH (cm) 24.9 (0.8) 24.4 (0.8) 25.3 (1.0) 25.5 (0.9)
    STANDING BROAD JUMP (cm) 102.8 (2.9) 113.1 (3.6)*** 103.1 (4.3) 111.3 (3.8)**
    SIT-UPS (reps. in 30 sec.) 5.3 (0.6) 6.5 (0.6)** 5.9 (0.8) 7.0 (1.1)
    BENT ARM HANG (sec.) 2.6 (0.4) 7.0 (1.0)*** 2.6 (0.6) 5.4 (1.1)***
    BEAM WALKING (sec.) 11.4 (1.4) 7.5 (0.7)** 7.7 (0.8) 7.2 (1.1)
    INDIAN SKIP (reps. in 30 sec.) 21.8 (2.2) 43.6 (1.9)*** 27.8 (2.4) 37.2 (1.8)***
    SHUTTLE RUN (sec.) 31.9 (0.7) 29.7 (0.5)** 30.7 (0.8) 30.3 (0.7)

    ** = p < .01, *** = p < .001.

    pretest the experimental group started lower than the ref- other variables such as leisure activities, were outside
    the control of this study. However, the parents’ socio-erence group, but scored better in all test items at the

    posttest (Table 1). This result makes it highly desirable economic background did not have any influence on the
    test results and there was no reason to anticipate oneto make causal inferences, and according to Robson

    (1993), when there is statistical significance, it is reason- parent group being more active outdoors than the other.
    It is generally accepted that people in the countryside inable to conclude that it is the independent variable (play-

    ing in the forest), which have affected the dependent Norway have similar opportunities for leisure activities
    and there is a somewhat democratic distribution of atten-variable (motor fitness). This amplifies the impression

    that the experimental group improved more during the dance to sports and leisure activities in the population
    (Wichstrøm, 1995).intervention period than the reference group. Significant

    differences were noticed between the experimental A study carried out by Grahn et al. (1997) showed
    a similar correlation between the physical playscape andgroup and the reference group in balance and coordina-

    tion at the posttest as illustrated in Figure 7. Growth motor abilities. The study design was more like a case
    study including two kindergartens with different outdoorand maturation in the children may have affected these

    results. The anthropometrical measurements, however, playgrounds. One kindergarten had access to natural en-
    vironment within the playground area while the othershowed no differences between the groups, neither did

    age and sex. It should therefore be reasonable to con- kindergarten had a more traditional urban playground.
    The EUROFIT Motor Fitness Test was applied and thesider the gain in motor fitness in the experimental group

    to be related to versatile play in a stimulating playscape. results showed a significantly better performance in the
    natural play area group than the traditional group.Whether these effects might have been influenced by
    Grahn’s study supports the findings of the present study
    and jointly the two studies indicate the positive impact
    of the natural environment on children’s motor develop-
    ment. Playground studies confirm the significance of di-
    versity in play equipment on children’s play behavior.
    The more equipped, the more versatile and creative the
    play (Frost & Sunderlin, 1985, Frost, 1992), and Moore
    and Wong (1997) observed that the repertoire of chil-
    dren’s behavior broadened enormously with the increase
    in physical diversity of the environment. Analysis of
    landscape ecology and topography for the study area de-
    scribed a varied and diverse playscape, and the study

    Fig. 7. Intereference effects.
    showed a strong relation between landscape structurePre- posttest results.
    and play functions (Fjørtoft & Sageie, 2000). The study

    Flamingo balance: Exp. group: 3.8* (0.3), Ref. group: 0.9 (0.6). Indian
    of Titman (1994) also confirms the children’s needs forskip: Exp. group: 20.6* (2.2), Ref. group: 10.5 (2.1).
    green grounds, trees to climb and shrubs for shelter and* = p < .05 (2-tailed).

    117The Natural Environment as a Playground

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    Bringing politics into the nursery: early childhood
    education as a democratic practice

    Peter Moss

    To cite this article: Peter Moss (2007) Bringing politics into the nursery: early childhood education
    as a democratic practice, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 15:1, 5-20, DOI:

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    European Early Childhood Education Research Journal
    Vol. 15, No. 1, March 2007

    ISSN 1350-293X (print)/ISSN 1752-1807 (online)/07/010005–16
    © 2007 EECERA
    DOI: 10.1080/13502930601046620

    Bringing politics into the nursery: early
    childhood education as a democratic
    Peter Moss*
    Institute of Education University of London, UK
    Taylor and Francis LtdRECR_A_204566.sgm10.1080/13502930601046620European Early Childhood Education Research Journal1350-293X (print)/1752-1807 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis151000000March

    This paper explores the possibility that early childhood institutions can be, first and foremost, places
    of political practice—and specifically of democratic political practice. The case for the primacy of
    democratic political practice in early childhood institutions is made more urgent by two develop-
    ments apparent in many countries today: the growth of policy interest in early childhood education,
    leading to an expansion of services, and the need to revive democratic politics. As well as bringing
    democratic practice into the nursery, what this would mean and what conditions might enable it,
    the paper also considers democratic practice at other levels: not just the institutional, but also the
    national or federal, the regional and the local, and how each level can create ‘democratic space’ at
    other levels. The paper ends by considering four issues related to democracy in early childhood
    education including paradigmatic diversity and the European level.

    Dans cet article nous précisons l’idée selon laquelle les institutions de la petite enfance peuvent être
    avant tout des lieux de pratique politique, et en particulier de pratique démocratique. La question
    de la primauté de la pratique démocratique dans les institutions de la petite enfance devient urgente
    en raison de deux phénomènes présents aujourdh’ui dans de nombreux pays : l’intérêt politique
    grandissant pour l’éducation des jeunes enfants qui mène à une augmentation des services de la
    petite enfance, et le besoin de ranimer les politiques démocratiques. Cet article porte sur la pratique
    démocratique dans les services de la petite enfance, sa signification et les conditions qui la rendent
    possible, mais aussi à d’autres niveaux : pas seulement au niveau institutionel mais aussi au niveau
    national ou fédéral, régional et local, en se demandant comment chaque niveau peut créer de
    l’’espace démocratique’ à d’autres niveaux. Il se termine avec quatre questions liées à la démocratie
    dans l’éducation de la petite enfance, dont le paradigme de la diversité et le niveau de l’Europe.

    Es wird die Möglichkeit erörtert, wie frühpädagogische Einrichtungen vor allem auch Orte politis-
    cher Praxis sein können – und insbesondere demokratischer politischer Praxis. Den Vorrang
    demokratischer politischer Praxis in frühpädagogischen Einrichtungen zu thematisieren, ist aufgr-
    und zweier aktueller Entwicklungen in vielen Ländern dringlicher geworden: das Anwachsen von

    * Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education University of London, 27–28 Woburn
    Square, London WC1H 0AA, UK. Email:

    6 P. Moss

    politischem Interesse in der Frühpädagogik, das zu einer Ausweitung des Angebotes geführt hat,
    und die Notwendigkeit demokratische Politik wieder zu beleben. Außer dem, was das Hineintragen
    demokratischer Praxis in den Kindergarten bedeutet und welche Bedingungen dies ermöglichen,
    befasst sich der Beitrag auch mit demokratischer Praxis auf anderen Ebenen, nämlich neben der
    institutionellen Ebene mit der nationalen oder föderalen Ebene, der regionalen und der lokalen
    Ebene, sowie damit, wie jede einzelne Ebene ,demokratischen Raum’ auf anderen Ebenen schaffen
    kann. Der Beitrag schließt mit der Betrachtung von vier Fragen zu Demokratie in der Bildung der
    frühen Kindheit einschließlich der paradigmatischen Diversity und der europäischen Ebene.

    Este artículo explora la posibilidad que las instituciones parvularias puedan ser, en primer lugar y
    sobre todo, lugares de prácticas políticas – y especialmente de prácticas políticas democráticas. La
    necesidad de una primacía de las prácticas políticas democráticas en las instituciones parvularias
    adquiere urgencia a partir de dos desarrollos presentes hoy día en muchos países: el creciente interés
    gubernamental en la educación parvularia, conducente a una expansión de los servicios; y la
    necesidad de revitalizar las políticas democráticas. Junto con la introducción de las practicas
    democráticas en las guarderías, lo que esto significaría y cuales condiciones se requieren, el articulo
    también considera las prácticas democráticas en otros niveles: no solo el institucional, sino también
    el nacional o federal, el regional y el local, y como cada nivel puede crear “espacios democráticos”
    para otros niveles. El artículo finaliza considerando cuatro temas relacionados con la democracia en
    la educación parvularia infancia incluyendo la diversidad paradigmática y el nivel europeo.

    Keywords: citizenship; democratic practice; early childhood institutions; nursery;
    political practice

    A recently published book, entitled Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood Education,
    begins with the following words:

    This book is about a possibility for institutions for children and young people…The possi-
    bility is that these institutions can be understood, first and foremost, as forums, spaces or
    sites for ethical and political practice. (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005, pp. 1–2)

    This paper explores part of this proposition: the possibility that institutions for
    children and young people can be, first and foremost, places of political practice—
    and specifically of democratic political practice. It focuses on one set of institutions,
    those for children below compulsory school age. But the argument applies equally to
    other types of institution, including schools for older children. The paper also uses
    the term ‘early childhood education’ as shorthand for a wide range of institutions
    providing education and care for young children, including nurseries, nursery
    schools, kindergartens, pre-schools and children’s and family centres. In other
    words, ‘education’ is treated as a broad concept that encompasses learning, care and
    upbringing—‘education in its broadest sense’.

    When I say that that there is a possibility that institutions for children and young
    people can be, first and foremost, places of democratic political practice, I say ‘possi-
    bility’ to emphasise that this understanding is a choice we, as citizens, can make.
    There is nothing inevitable about it: there is more than one way in which we can think
    about and provide these institutions. It is possible for them to be understood as places
    of democratic practice. But there are other possibilities.

    Early childhood institutions can, for example, be thought of as places, first and
    foremost, for technical practice: places where society can apply powerful human

    Bringing politics into the nursery 7

    technologies to children to produce predetermined outcomes. In this respect they
    form part of what Allan Luke describes as an ‘internationally rampant vision of
    schooling, teaching and learning based solely on systemic efficacy at the measurable
    technical production of human capital’ (Luke, 2005, p. 12). Or, to take another
    example, they can be thought of as businesses competing in a private market, offering
    a commodity to parents-as-consumers.

    These understandings are both very prominent in England. The key question asked
    of early childhood education is the supremely technical one: ‘what works?’ While the
    government’s recent action plan for implementing its ten-year strategy for childcare
    is explicitly based on a market approach (English Department for Education and
    Skills/Department for Work and Pensions, 2006a). It speaks of the need ‘to develop
    in every area a thriving childcare market which will respond to parents’ needs’; of
    ‘delivery through the market’ and of how local authorities will have ‘to play an active
    role in understanding the way the local childcare market is working’ and help ‘the
    market work more effectively’. There is no reference to ‘democracy’.

    The case for democratic practice

    Why is democratic practice so important, generally and in early childhood educa-
    tion? The case can be put in a nutshell. Democratic participation is an important
    criterion of citizenship: it is a means by which children and adults can participate
    with others in shaping decisions affecting themselves, groups of which they are
    members and the wider society. It is also a means of resisting power and its will to
    govern, and the forms of oppression and injustice that arise from the unrestrained
    exercise of power. Last but not least, democracy creates the possibility for diversity
    to flourish. By so doing, it offers the best environment for the production of new
    thinking and new practice.

    The case for the primacy of democratic political practice in early childhood insti-
    tutions is, in my opinion, made more urgent by two developments apparent in many
    countries today. First, there is the growth of policy interest in early childhood educa-
    tion, leading to an expansion of services. The question, therefore, of what we think
    early childhood institutions are for, what purposes they serve in our societies, is
    becoming very pressing.

    Especially in the English-language world, the answer—the rationale for action—is
    predominantly technical and consumerist. As already mentioned, early childhood
    institutions are readily seen as places to govern children through applying increasingly
    powerful human technologies and as suppliers of a commodity to be traded in a child-
    care market. This understanding of early childhood services is produced by what has
    been termed by Dahlberg and Moss (2005) an Anglo-American discourse, a
    discourse that is instrumental in rationality, technical in practice and inscribed with
    certain values: individual choice and competitiveness, certainty and universality. This
    discourse has another feature that is at odds with an idea of democratic practice: it is
    inherently totalising. It cannot understand that it may be just one way of seeing and
    understanding, that there could be other ways of practising and evaluating early

    8 P. Moss

    childhood, that there might be more than one right answer to any question, that it is
    just one of many perspectives.

    If this discourse was limited to the English-speaking world, it would be serious. But
    its aspirations are wider: it is increasingly dominant elsewhere, as can be judged by
    the spread of its favoured vocabulary, terms like ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’. It is an
    example of what Santos (2004) refers to as ‘hegemonic globalisation’ that is ‘the
    successful globalisation of a particular local and culturally-specific discourse to the
    point that it makes universal truth claims and “localises” all rival discourses’ (p. 149).
    What enables this discourse to aspire to global dominance is the spread of the
    English-language and of neo-liberal values and beliefs.

    Neo-liberalism seeks to de-politicise life, to reduce everything to questions of
    money value and calculation, management and technical practice. It prefers technical
    to critical questions and, under its influence, we are seeing the emergence of what
    Clarke refers to as ‘managerialised politics’ in a ‘managerial state’:

    The problems which the managerial state is intended to resolve derive from contradictions
    and conflicts in the political, economic and social realms. But what we have seen is the
    managerialisation of these contradictions: they are redefined as ‘problems to be managed’.
    Terms such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’, ‘performance’ and ‘quality’ depoliticise a
    series of social issues … and thus displace real political and policy choices into managerial
    imperatives. (Clarke, 1998, p. 174)

    This leads to my second argument for the contemporary importance of democratic
    practice for early childhood institutions. The process of depoliticisation in public life
    can be seen as part of a wider process: democracy, or I should say the established
    institutions and practices of representative democracy, is in a sickly state. Fewer
    people vote, elected representatives are held in low esteem, whole sections of the
    community feel estranged from mainstream politics while many others feel cynical or
    disinterested, and undemocratic political forces are on the rise. Yet at the same time,
    all is not gloom and doom; there are reasons for hope. Alienation from more tradi-
    tional and formal democratic politics—politicians, political parties and political insti-
    tutions—is matched by growing interest and engagement in other forms of
    democratic politics, including direct engagement in movements active on particular
    issues, such as the environment or globalisation.

    The challenge is both to revive traditional or formal democratic politics and to
    exploit the interest in alternative forms of democratic politics through developing new
    places and new subjects for the practice of democratic politics—including early
    childhood institutions and issues that are central to the everyday lives of the children
    and adults who participate in these institutions.

    Democracy at many levels

    The first part of this article’s title refers to ‘bringing politics into the nursery’. But the
    second part—‘early childhood education as democratic practice’—implies demo-
    cratic practice at several levels: not just the institutional, the nursery, but also the
    national or federal, the regional and the local. Each level has responsibility for certain

    Bringing politics into the nursery 9

    choices: and it is important to make clear at this point that I use the word ‘choice’ to
    mean the democratic process of collective decision-making, to reclaim it from the
    neo-liberals’ usage of ‘choice’ as decision-making by individual consumers. As a
    recent report into Britain’s democracy—the Power Inquiry—puts it:

    We do not believe that the consumer and the citizen are one and the same, as the new
    market-driven technocracy seems to assume. Consumers act as individuals, making deci-
    sions largely on how an issue will affect themselves and their families. Citizenship implies
    membership of a collective where decisions are taken not just in the interest of the individ-
    ual but for the collective as a whole or for a significant part of that collective. (Power
    Inquiry, 2006, p. 169)

    The choices made at each level should be democratic, the consequence of democratic
    political practice. But each level should also support democratic practice at more local
    levels, ensuring those more local levels have important decisions to make and are
    supported in so doing—in other words, creating ‘democratic space’ and conditions
    for active democratic practice.

    What is the democratic space at national or federal level? What democratic choices
    should be made there? The task here is to provide a national framework of entitle-
    ments, expectations and values that express democratically agreed national objectives
    and beliefs; and to provide the material conditions to make these a reality and to
    enable other levels to implement them and to practice democracy. This framework
    needs to be both clear and strong, without smothering regional or local diversity. To
    take some examples, it means: a clear entitlement to access to services for children as
    citizens (in my view from 12 months of age), together with a funding system that
    enables all children to exercise their entitlement; a clear statement that early
    childhood services are a public good and responsibility, not a private commodity; a
    framework curriculum that defines broad values and goals but allows local interpre-
    tation; a fully integrated early childhood policy, the responsibility of one government
    department; a well educated and well paid workforce for all young children (at least
    half of whom are graduates); and active policies to reduce poverty and inequality.

    An interesting contrast can be made here between my own country, England, and
    the Nordic countries. Since 1997, government in England has taken early childhood
    far more seriously then ever before. A number of important developments have taken
    place, including the integration of responsibility for all early childhood services within
    the Department for Education and the development of Children’s Centres, an inte-
    grated form of provision. A curriculum has also been introduced.

    But this is very far from the framework type referred to above, and adopted in
    Nordic countries: it does not support democratic practice.

    The existing curriculum for 3- to 5-year-olds, running to 128 pages, is highly
    prescriptive and linked to more than 60 early learning goals (QCA, 2000). A new
    curriculum, to cover children from birth to 5, has been published in draft form and is
    the subject of consultation (English Department for Education and Skills/Department
    for Work and Pensions, 2006b). This is again long, detailed and prescriptive. It
    contains, one overseas commentator has calculated, over 1500 pieces of specific
    advice to teachers, some in the form of directives, others pointing out specific

    10 P. Moss

    developmental milestones that workers should attend to. Rather than broad princi-
    ples, values and goals, open to interpretation by trusted professionals, as in the Nordic
    countries, the draft curriculum comes across as a manual for technicians: it creates no
    ‘democratic space’ and gives no encouragement to democratic practice.

    Another contrast is apparent between the curricula in England and the Nordic
    states. Wagner (2006) argues that democracy is central to the Nordic concept of the
    good childhood and notes, in support of this contention, that ‘official policy docu-
    ments and curriculum guidelines in the Nordic countries acknowledge a central
    expectation that preschools and schools will exemplify democratic principles and that
    children will be active participants in these democratic environments’ (p. 292). Some
    national examples illustrate the point. Near its beginning, the Swedish pre-school
    curricula (just 19 pages in its English translation) discusses ‘fundamental values’ of
    the pre-school, beginning this section with a clear statement: ‘democracy forms the
    foundation of the pre-school. For this reason all pre-school activity should be carried
    out in accordance with fundamental democratic values’ (Swedish Ministry of Educa-
    tion and Science, 1998). The new Norwegian curriculum (34 pages) speaks of
    kindergartens laying ‘the foundation for … active participation in democratic society’
    (Norwegian Ministry, 2006). This objective is echoed in the Icelandic national curric-
    ulum guide for pre-schools (47 pages), which asserts that one of the principle objec-
    tives of pre-school education is ‘to lay the foundations to enable [children] to be
    independent, reflective, active and responsible citizens in a democratic society’; the
    guide adds later that ‘a child should be taught democratic practices in preschool’
    (Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, 2003, pp. 7, 18).

    Yet the existing or recently drafted English early years curricula contain no
    reference to democracy, despite their much greater length. Thus while the Nordic
    curricula explicitly recognise democracy as a value, the English curricula do not. Here
    are clear examples of how national level decision-making can support democracy at
    other levels, through policy documents that state unequivocally that democracy is a
    nationally agreed value—and that create ‘democratic space’ at more local levels for
    democratic interpretation of national policy, in this case of national curricula. Of
    course, in England, there are many instances of individual institutions that practise
    democracy. But the absence of democracy from key national policy documents
    reflects the priority given to technical practice and managerialised politics and the
    consequences of understanding large swathes of early childhood education as busi-
    nesses selling a commodity.

    I shall move now to the local level of government. In doing so, I am conscious of
    omitting a level of provincial, state or regional government that is important in many
    countries, for example Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain and the United States. A
    full discussion of democratic practice in early childhood education would need to take
    account of this level of government, located between national and local. However,
    this article will skirt around it on grounds of space but also lack of personal knowledge
    coming, as I do, from the most centralised country in Europe.

    I have already suggested that a democratic system involves each level leaving space
    for democratic practice at other levels. This means strong decentralisation to the local

    Bringing politics into the nursery 11

    level (Power Inquiry, 2006). What does democratic practice in early childhood insti-
    tutions involve at this level?

    Some years ago, I visited an Italian city with a rich experience in early childhood
    education. The head of the services in this city—not, as it happens, Reggio Emilia—
    described their work over 30 years as a ‘local cultural project of childhood’. This term
    has stayed with me, because it captures what democratic practice at its best and most
    active can mean and achieve in a local authority or commune or municipality. It
    captures that idea of political commitment, citizen participation and collective deci-
    sion-making that may enable a community to take responsibility for its children and
    their education (in its broadest sense): responsibility not just for providing services
    but for how they are understood, for the purposes they serve in that community and
    for the pedagogical practice that goes on within them. Some other Italian communes
    (including, but not only, Reggio) have undertaken such collective, democratic
    ventures, and no doubt there are examples in other countries.

    There are other ways of thinking about such local projects: as Utopian action or
    social experimentation or community research and action. What these terms all have
    in common is an idea of the commune creating a space for democratic enquiry and
    dialogue from which a collective view of the child and her relationship to the commu-
    nity is produced and local policy, practice and knowledge develops. This in turn is
    always open to democratic evaluation and new thinking. In some cases, such projects
    may be actively encouraged by national levels of government; in others, such as Italy,
    they may be made possible be a weak national government and local governments
    with strong democratic traditions, willing and able to use space made available to
    them by default not intention.

    How local cultural projects of childhood can be actively encouraged, what other
    conditions they need to flourish and what structures and processes may sustain
    them are all important subjects for research into democratic practice in early child-
    hood education. Nor should we expect that these projects can happen in all local
    areas—you cannot legislate for them. But even where they do not happen, demo-
    cratic practice can still play an important part at local government level. Local
    authorities should have an important role in interpreting national frameworks such
    as curricula documents. They can affirm the importance of democracy as a value,
    and they can support democracy in the nursery. They can also foster other condi-
    tions favourable to democracy: for example, actively building up collaboration
    between services—networks not markets; or providing a documentation archive, the
    importance of documentation in democratic practice being a theme discussed

    Finally, I want to consider democratic practice in the early childhood institution
    itself: bringing politics into the nursery—or the crèche, preschool, kindergarten, nurs-
    ery school or any of the other terms we use to describe settings for collective early
    childhood education. The starting point needs to be how we imagine, construct or
    understand this institution: what do we think the nursery is? I have already mentioned
    two common understandings, at least in the English-speaking world: the early
    childhood institution as an enclosure where technology can be applied to produce

    12 P. Moss

    predetermined outcomes (the metaphor is the factory); and the early childhood
    institution as business, selling a commodity to consumers.

    But there are many other understandings, some of which are more productive of
    democratic practice: in particular, the early childhood institution as a public forum in
    civil society or as a place of encounter and dialogue between citizens, from which many
    possibilities can emerge, some expected, others not, and most productive when rela-
    tionships are governed by democratic practice. This image is richly expressed in For
    a New Public Education System, a declaration launched in summer 2005 at the 40th
    Rosa Sensat Summer School in Barcelona: the term ‘school’ here is used as a generic
    term to cover institutions for all children, both of and under compulsory school age.

    In the new public education system, the school must be a place for everyone, a meeting
    place in the physical and also social, cultural and political sense of the word. A forum or
    site for meeting and relating, where children and adults meet and commit to something,
    where they can dialogue, listen and discuss, in order to share meanings: it is a place of infi-
    nite cultural, linguistic, social, aesthetic, ethical, political and economic possibilities. A
    place of ethical and political praxis, a space for democratic learning. A place for research
    and creativity, coexistence and pleasure, critical thought and emancipation. (Associació de
    Mestres Rosa Sensat, 2005, p. 10)

    The early childhood institution in which democratic politics, along with ethics, is first
    practice creates one of the new spaces that is needed if democracy is to be renewed.
    In particular, it offers democratic practice that is not representative (through electing
    representatives) but direct: the rule of all by all. This space offers opportunities for all
    citizens, younger and older, to participate—be they children or parents, practitioners
    or politicians, or indeed any other local citizen. Topics ignored or neglected in tradi-
    tional politics can be made the subjects of democratic practice.

    Bringing democratic politics into the nursery means citizens engaging in at least
    four types of activity. First, decision-making about the purposes, the practices and the
    environment of the nursery. Second, evaluation of pedagogical work through partici-
    patory methods. In the book Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care
    (Dahlberg et al., 1999), the authors contrast ‘quality’ as a technical language of
    evaluation with a democratic language: ‘meaning making’. Third, contesting dominant
    discourses, what Foucault terms regimes of truth, which seek to shape our subjectivi-
    ties and practices through their universal truth claims and their relationship with
    power. This political activity seeks to make core assumptions and values contestable.

    Yeatman (1994) refers to this third activity as ‘postmodern politics’ and offers
    some examples: a politics of epistemology, contesting modernity’s idea of knowledge;
    a politics of representation, about whose perspectives have legitimacy; and a politics
    of difference, which contests those groups claiming a privileged position of objectivity
    on a contested subject. But we could extend the areas opened up to politics, that are
    re-politicised as legitimate subjects for inclusive political dialogue and contestation:
    the image of the child, the good life and what we want for our children; what educa-
    tion can and should be; gender in the nursery and home—these and many other
    subjects can be the subject of democratic engagement within the early childhood
    institution, examples of bringing politics into the nursery.

    Bringing politics into the nursery 13

    It is through contesting dominant discourses that the fourth political activity can
    emerge: opening up for change, through envisioning utopias and turning them into
    utopian action. For as Foucault (1988) also notes, there is a close connection between
    contesting dominant discourses, thinking differently and change: ‘as soon as one can
    no longer think things as one formerly thought them, transformation becomes both
    very urgent, very difficult and quite possible’.

    Conditions for democracy

    The early childhood institution as a site for democratic practice is unlikely to occur
    by chance. It needs intention—a choice must be made. And it needs supportive condi-
    tions. I have already referred to the importance of the image of the institution. But
    other images or understandings are also important for bringing politics into the nurs-
    ery; for example, the image of the child, parents and workers. The child is understood
    as a competent citizen, an expert in her own life, having opinions that are worth
    listening to and having the right and competence to participate in collective decision-
    making. It is important to recognise, too, that children (and adults) have a hundred
    languages to express themselves, and democratic practice means being able to ‘listen’
    to these many languages. Parents too are seen as competent citizens ‘because they
    have and develop their own experience, points of view, interpretation and ideas …
    which are the fruits of their experience as parents and citizens’ (Cagliari et al., 2004,
    p. 30). Workers assume what Oberhuemer (2005) has termed ‘democratic profession-
    alism’, understanding their role as practitioners of democracy. While recognising that
    they bring an important perspective and a relevant local knowledge to the democratic
    forum, they also recognise that they do not have the truth nor privileged access to

    Democratic practice needs certain values to be shared among the community of the
    early childhood institution, for example:

    ● respect for diversity, which relates to the ethics of an encounter, a relational ethics
    foregrounded by Dahlberg and Moss (2005) in their discussion of ethics in early
    childhood education;

    ● recognition of multiple perspectives and diverse paradigms—that there is more
    than one answer to most questions and that there are many ways of viewing and
    understanding the world, a point to which I shall return;

    ● welcoming curiosity, uncertainty and subjectivity—and the responsibility that they
    require of us;

    ● critical thinking, which in the words of Nikolas Rose is ‘a matter of introduc-
    ing a critical attitude towards those things that are given to our present
    experience as if they were timeless, natural, unquestionable: to stand against
    the maxims of one’s time, against the spirit of one’s age, against the current of
    received wisdom … [it is a matter] of interrupting the fluency of the
    narratives that encode that experience and making them stutter’ (Rose, 1999,
    p. 20).

    14 P. Moss

    The importance of such values for fostering democratic practice is captured in these
    words by three pedagogistas from Reggio Emilia, on the subject of participation in
    their municipal schools:

    Participation is based on the idea that reality is not objective, that culture is a constantly
    evolving product of society, that individual knowledge is only partial; and that in order to
    construct a project, everyone’s point of view is relevant in dialogue with those of others,
    within a framework of shared values. The idea of participation is founded on these concepts:
    and in our opinion, so, too, is democracy itself. (Cagliari et al., 2004, p. 29)

    As well as shared understandings and values, democratic practice in early childhood
    institutions needs certain material conditions and tools. A well-qualified workforce,
    educated to be democratic professionals, is one important example. Another may be
    the role of critical friend, such as the pedagogista of northern Italy, an experienced
    educator working with a small number of centres to support dialogue and critical
    thought about pedagogical practice. A third example is pedagogical documentation,
    by which practice and learning processes are made visible and then subject to critical
    thought, dialogue, reflection, interpretation and, if necessary, democratic evaluation
    and decision-making.

    Pedagogical documentation has a central role to play in many facets of the early
    childhood institution: evaluation, professional development, research—and demo-
    cratic practice. Malaguzzi saw it in this democratic light, as his biographer Alfredo
    Hoyuelos writes:

    [Documentation] is one of the keys to Malaguzzi’s philosophy. Behind this practice, I
    believe, is the ideological and ethical concept of a transparent school and transparent
    education … A political idea also emerges, which is that what schools do must have public
    visibility … Documentation in all its different forms also represents an extraordinary tool
    for dialogue, for exchange, for sharing. For Malaguzzi it means the possibility to discuss
    and to dialogue ‘everything with everyone’ (teachers, auxiliary staff, cooks, families,
    administrators and citizens … [S]haring opinions by means of documentation presupposes
    being able to discuss real, concrete things—not just theories or words, about which it is
    possible to reach easy and naïve agreement. (Hoyuelos, 2004, p. 7)

    Carlina Rinaldi also speaks of documentation as democratic practice: ‘Sharing the
    documentation means participation in a true act of democracy, sustaining the culture
    and visibility of childhood, both inside and outside the school: democratic participa-
    tion, or “participant democracy”, that is a product of exchange and visibility’
    (Rinaldi, 2005, p. 59).

    Documentation today is widely practised in various forms and for various purposes.
    An example with which I am very familiar is the Mosaic approach developed by my
    colleague Alison Clark. Inspired by pedagogical documentation, the Mosaic approach
    has been used for a range of purposes, including enabling the participation by young
    children in the design of new buildings and outdoor spaces. Here is yet another example
    of how pedagogical documentation is a key tool for democratic practice, in this case
    young children’s contribution to decision-making (Clark, 2005; Clark & Moss, 2005).

    It is important to keep in mind that pedagogical documentation is not child
    observation; it is not a means of getting a true picture of what children can do nor a

    Bringing politics into the nursery 15

    technology of normalisation. It does not, for example, assume an objective, external
    truth about the child that can be recorded and accurately represented. It adopts
    instead the values of subjectivity and multiplicity: it can never be neutral, being
    always perspectival (Dahlberg et al., 1999). Understood in this way, as a means for
    exploring and contesting different perspectives, pedagogical documentation not only
    becomes a means of resisting power, including dominant discourses, but also a means
    of fostering democratic practice.

    Time precludes discussing other conditions and tools for democratic practice, apart
    from flagging up what seems to me a major issue: time. Democratic practice in the
    nursery, indeed anywhere, takes time—and time is in short supply today when we are
    so unceasingly busy. A strange feature of English policy in early childhood, but also
    in compulsory schooling, is the emphasis given to ‘parental involvement’ when parents
    appear never to have been busier. So on the one hand, policy values employment for
    fathers and mothers; while at the same time, policy values parents being involved in
    their children’s education and the services they attend. There is an interesting tension
    here—although less so than might at first appear as involvement is primarily under-
    stood in policy in terms of parents reinforcing taken-for-granted objectives and targets:
    involvement understood as critical democratic practice is likely to make more demands
    on time. So far more thought needs to be given to the question of time, and how we
    might be able to redistribute it across a range of activities and relationships. Ulrich
    Beck, for example, addresses this when he raises the concept of ‘public work’ that
    would provide ‘a new focus of activity and identity that will revitalize the democratic
    way of life’ (Beck, 1998, p. 60) and suggests various ways of paying for public work.

    Four concluding observations

    I want to conclude by making four observations on my theme of early childhood
    education as a democratic practice—or that this is a possibility. First, establishing
    democracy as a central value in early childhood institutions is, in my view, incompat-
    ible with understanding these institutions as businesses and adopting a market
    approach to service development. Businesses, or at least those owned by an individual
    or company, may of course want to listen to their ‘customers’ and take their views into
    account; they may even exercise some social responsibility. But they cannot allow
    democratic practice to be first practice because their primary responsibility is to their
    owners or shareholders; business decisions cannot be made democratically. Similarly,
    a system of early childhood services based on choices made by individual consumers
    is fundamentally at odds with one that values collective decision-making by citizens.
    The Power Inquiry draws the distinction clearly: ‘Individual decisions made on behalf
    of oneself and one’s family cannot substitute for mass deliberation in the public
    realm—which is an absolutely crucial process in a democratic and open society’
    (Power Inquiry, 2006, p. 159).

    Second, democracy is risky. It can pose a threat not only to the powerful but also
    to those who are weak. People come to the democratic process not only with different
    perspectives, but also with different interests and power; conflict is likely, in which the

    16 P. Moss

    weaker may lose out. Inequality then may increase, not lessen. An argument against
    decentralisation, that the English government might well make in defence of a highly
    centralised and prescriptive approach to policy, is that strong central regulation of
    early childhood education is necessary to ensure equality of treatment for all children;
    without it, you open the floodgates to inequality, risking some children getting far
    worse provision than others—and with those from poorer backgrounds being most at
    risk. There is some truth in this, the case for less centralisation and more democratic
    practice being weaker in an unequal society where early childhood education and its
    workforce are less developed and have suffered from long-term public disinterest and

    There is no final and definitive answer to this dilemma. The tense relationship
    between unity and decentralisation, standardisation and diversity is long-standing
    and never ultimately resolvable—it is an eternal dialectic, a relationship in constant
    flux and always a contestable political issue. As implied above, the relationship needs
    deciding in relation to current conditions—but also in relation to where you want to
    be. Even if you judge the current situation calls for strong centralisation, you may
    decide this is not where you want to be in the longer term. Then the question is what
    conditions are needed to move towards more decentralisation and democracy. This
    process of movement from centralisation to decentralisation can be observed in the
    history of early childhood education in Sweden, which has moved from a rather
    centralised and standardised approach, to one today that is strongly decentralised.
    Even then, the relationship must always be under critical scrutiny. How is decentral-
    isation working in practice? Who is benefiting and who is losing? How can democratic
    practice be better balanced with concerns for equitable treatment?

    My third observation concerns the subject of paradigm. I proposed earlier that
    recognition of diverse paradigms is an important value for democratic practice. But
    such recognition is rare today. Instead, the early childhood world faces a deeply trou-
    bling, but largely unspoken, issue: the paradigmatic divide between the majority (be
    they policy-makers, practitioners or researchers) who are situated within a positivistic
    or modernistic paradigm, and the minority who situate themselves within a paradigm
    variously described as postmodern, postpositivist or postfoundational. The former
    espouse ‘the modern idea of truth as reflective of nature … [and believe] that the
    conflict of interpretations can be mediated or resolved in such a way as to provide a
    single coherent theory which corresponds to the way things are’ (Babich et al., 1995,
    p. 1). While the latter adopt ‘postmodern questions of interpretation, valuation, and
    perspectivalism … [and] an infinitely interpretable reality where diverse, divergent,
    complementary, contradictory, and incommensurable interpretations contest each
    other’ (ibid.). For the former, early childhood education is progressing inexorably to
    its apotheosis, based on the increasing ability of modern science to provide indisput-
    able evidence of what works. While for the latter, early childhood education offers the
    prospect of infinite possibilities informed by multiple perspectives, local knowledges,
    provisional truths.

    Each side has little to do with the other. Communication is restricted because the
    modernists do not recognise paradigm, taking their paradigm and its assumptions and

    Bringing politics into the nursery 17

    values for granted. While the postmodernists recognise paradigm but see little virtue
    in the paradigm of modernity or at least have made the choice not to situate
    themselves within that paradigm. The one group, therefore, see no choice to make;
    the other has made a choice, which involves situating themselves beyond modernity.
    Communications issued from one camp are dismissed by the other as invalid,
    unintelligible, uninteresting or incredible.

    Does this distant and non-communicative relationship matter? Is it not the role of
    the postfoundationalists to develop alternative discourses and critical thinking, rather
    than fraternise with those with whom they appear to have nothing in common? And
    shouldn’t modernists focus their attentions on what they believe in, the production of
    true knowledge? I think it does matter. The absence of dialogue and debate impover-
    ishes early childhood and weakens democratic politics. ‘Mainstream’ policy and prac-
    tice are isolated from an important source of new and different thought, policy-
    makers having little or no awareness of a growing movement that questions much of
    what they take (or have been advised to take) for granted. A dominant discourse is
    given too much uncritical space and increasingly undermines democracy by the
    process of depoliticisation already mentioned. Rather than such a discourse being
    regarded as a perspective privileging certain interests, it comes to be regarded as the
    only true account, the only questions being about the most effective methods of
    implementation. In this situation, policy and practice choices are reduced to narrow
    and impoverished technical questions of the ‘what works?’ variety (for a fuller discus-
    sion of this important issue, see Moss, forthcoming 2007).

    Finally, I want to mention one more level where democratic practice is needed, in
    addition to the national, regional, local and institutional: the European. The Euro-
    pean Union (EU) has a long history of involvement in early childhood policy and
    provision, though it has tended to talk rather narrowly about ‘childcare’ since its
    interest has mainly arisen from labour market policy goals (including gender equality
    in employment). Here are two recent examples of this involvement, and a third where
    early childhood education should appear—but does not.

    In 2002, EU governments agreed, at a meeting in Barcelona, that ‘Member States
    [should strive] to provide childcare by 2010 to at least 90% of children between 3
    years old and mandatory school age and at least 33% of children under 3 years of age’.
    This purely quantitative target says nothing about the organisation or content of these
    places; no reference, for example, is made to the criteria agreed 10 years earlier by
    member state governments when they adopted a Council Recommendation on
    Childcare, which set out a range of principles and objectives to guide the qualitative
    development of services. Instead, member states are left to pursue the Barcelona
    targets ‘in line with [national] patterns of provision’.

    In April 2006, the so-called Bolkestein Directive—or the Services Directive, to give
    it its proper name—was amended substantially by the European Council and the
    European Parliament, dropping the country of origin principle and excluding the
    health and social services sectors (including childcare). Without these amendments,
    this proposal for European legislation from the European Commission would have
    permitted private providers to set up nurseries in other countries, applying the

    18 P. Moss

    regulatory standards from their own country, so risking a process of levelling down to
    the lowest common denominator (Szoc, 2006).

    In July 2006, the European Commission issued a Communication Towards an EU
    Strategy on the Rights of the Child, in which it proposes ‘to establish a comprehensive
    EU strategy to effectively promote and safeguard the rights of the child in the
    European Union’s internal and external policies’. The good news is that the EU has
    recognised its obligation to respect children’s rights. The bad news is that the
    Communication makes few concrete commitments and has nothing to say about chil-
    dren’s rights in the EU’s policies on ‘childcare’, such as the Barcelona targets outlined
    above, policies which until now have been mainly driven by policy goals concerned
    with employment and gender equality.

    With some honourable exceptions, the early childhood community in Europe has
    failed to engage with these and other initiatives; we have created no European politics
    of early childhood, no ‘democratic space’ for discussing policy initiatives coming from
    the EU as well as creating demands for new initiatives. I do not think it possible, nor
    would I want to see, a uniform European approach across all aspects of early child-
    hood policy, provision and practice. But in my view it is both feasible and desirable
    to work, democratically, to identify a body of agreed values, principles and objectives
    for early childhood services: in short, to develop a European approach or policy on
    early childhood education. As evidence in support of this contention, I would refer
    you to Quality Targets in Services for Young Children, a report produced by a working
    group drawn from 12 member states through a democratic process of consultation,
    discussion and negotiation (EC Childcare Network, 1996). Quality Targets sets out
    40 common goals achievable across Europe over a 10-year period, to implement the
    principles and objectives agreed by member state governments in the 1992 Council
    Recommendation on Childcare. Revisiting the document recently, I was struck by
    how well it has aged, but also how it shows the potential of democratic practice for
    defining a European framework for early childhood education.

    During 2007, Children in Europe, a unique multi-national and multi-lingual maga-
    zine, intends to stimulate a democratic debate within EU member states on whether
    we should and can work towards defining a European approach to services for young
    children. The intention is to put forward, for discussion and contestation, a declara-
    tion proposing certain shared values and principles. Children in Europe will not be
    starting from scratch but building on existing European foundations such as the
    1992 Council Recommendation on Childcare and the Quality Targets, as well as the
    invaluable OECD Starting Strong reports (OECD, 2001, 2006). I hope that many
    others will participate in the democratic space that Children in Europe hopes to open
    up, so bringing European politics into the nursery—but also the nursery into Euro-
    pean politics.


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    Beck, U. (1998) Democracy without enemies (Cambridge, Polity Press).
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    tives, in: A. Clark, A. T. Kjørholt & P. Moss (Eds) Beyond listening: children’s perspectives on
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    pre-schools (English translation) (Reykjavik, Ministry of Education, Science and Culture).
    Luke, A. (2005) Curriculum, ethics, metanarrative: teaching and learning beyond the nation, in:

    Y. Nozaki, R. Openshaw & A. Luke (Eds) Struggles over difference: curriculum, texts, and peda-
    gogy in the Asia–Pacific (Albany, SUNY Press), pp. 11–25.

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    Norwegian Ministry of Education and Researh (2006) Framework plan for the content and tasks of
    kindergartens (Oslo, Ministry of Education and Research).

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    O R I G I N A L P A P E R

    Young Children as Protagonists and the Role of Participatory,
    Visual Methods in Engaging Multiple Perspectives

    Alison Clark

    Published online: 8 June 2010

    � Society for Community Research and Action 2010

    Abstract How can the perspectives, insights and interests

    of young children, under 6 years-old, be given status in

    processes of change? This paper will examine the contri-

    bution participatory and visual methods can make to

    enabling young children to document their experiences and

    to facilitate exchange with adults. Examples will be drawn

    from three research studies in educational settings which

    have developed a specific research method, the Mosaic

    approach (Clark and Moss 2001; Clark 2004; Clark 2005)

    which brings together visual and verbal research tools. This

    paper will discuss how researching with young children

    rather than on young children can redraw the boundaries

    between adults’ and children’s roles in the research process

    including the relationship with the research


    Keywords Participatory action research �
    Visual research methods � Young children


    How can the perspectives, insights and interests of young

    children, under 6 years-old, be given status in processes of

    change? This paper will examine the contribution partici-

    patory and visual methods can make to enabling young

    children to document their views and experiences and to

    facilitate exchange with adults in different professional


    Following an introduction to the methods, this paper

    discusses how researching with young children rather than

    on young children can redraw the boundaries between

    adults’ and children’s roles in the research process. Firstly,

    the role of young children in participatory action research

    is considered with examples taken from studies adopting

    the Mosaic approach. Secondly, the influence of this

    approach on the role of adults in the research process is

    considered, both in terms of the researcher and the research

    audience. This leads to a discussion of how visual, par-

    ticipatory research methods may contribute to the genera-

    tion of democratic knowledge that includes both adults’

    and young children’s perspectives.

    Children as Active Participants in


    The emergence of the sociology of childhood has con-

    tributed to a re-evaluation of the role of children in

    research. Christensen and James (2008) and Mayall (2008)

    have been among those authors who have articulated a

    view of the child as an active participant in the research

    process with unique insights to offer about their lives. The

    detailed study of the everyday lives of children can

    encompass the perspectives of the researcher and the direct

    experiences of the children themselves (for example, Burke

    2008; Emond 2005). This may lead to children being seen

    as researchers or ‘‘co-researchers.’’

    A second impetus for re-evaluating the role of children

    and adults in research has come from Participatory Action

    Research (PAR; for example, see Fals-Borda 2006 and

    Park 2006). Participatory Action Research brings to the

    fore questions relating to power, knowledge and partici-

    pation. Power and knowledge are seen as tightly interre-

    lated concepts (Gaventa and Cornwall 2006). There is

    some shared ground here with postmodern perspectives, as

    Reason and Bradbury discuss: ‘‘It also emphasises the

    intimate relationship between knowledge and power, how

    A. Clark (&)
    Centre for Childhood, Development and Learning, The Open

    University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK



    Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123

    DOI 10.1007/s10464-010-9332-y

    knowledge-making supported by various cultural and

    political forms, creates a reality which favours those who

    hold power’’ (Reason and Bradbury 2006, p. 7).

    However, Reason and Bradbury make the case for action

    research providing one way to move beyond revealing

    power differences to readdressing these imbalances

    through the exploration of democratic forms of knowledge-

    building (2006). Fine describes such an alternative

    knowledge-building process in her account of the devel-

    opment of the Participatory Action Research Collective:

    ‘‘…the work of PAR deliberately inverts who constructs
    research questions, designs, methods, interpretations and

    products; who engages in surveillance; who speaks with

    authority about social arrangements’’ (Fine 2007, p. 1).

    There has been a close association between the devel-

    opment of Participatory Action Research and marginalised

    groups (Gaventa and Cornwall 2006). One form which this

    has taken is in participatory rural appraisal programmes.

    Participatory rural appraisal sets out to privilege both the

    methods of communicating and the local knowledge held

    by members of a community (Chambers 1997). Questions

    of power were central to the development of these

    approaches. Methods were devised that gave status to local

    people and local knowledge (although there has been

    debate about whether these methods have empowered

    communities or not. For example, see Cooke and Kothari


    The adoption of participatory methods within childhood

    research sets out in a similar way: to acknowledge ques-

    tions of power in the research process. There is an attempt

    in the adoption of participatory methods to tap into chil-

    dren’s direct experiences and to give these perspectives

    value and status. The term co-researcher indicates this

    intended sharing of power within the research process.

    Photography has been one tool that has been adopted in

    participatory research studies to give children and young

    people a means of documenting their experiences and

    priorities (for example, Burke 2008; Thomson 2008).

    Burke (2008) illustrates this in her study of young

    people’s views of their neighbourhood in which the young

    people acting as co-researchers document their local play

    spaces by taking and displaying their photographs.

    Meaning Making and Learning

    Children as co-researchers and knowledge-builders may

    have another understanding in a learning context. This

    may equate the term co-researcher with that of meaning-

    maker. This was the term adopted by Wells (1986) in his

    study of the language development of young children.

    This view of children as meaning-makers is in keeping

    with a social constructivist view about learning where

    children are seen as playing an active role in knowledge

    construction in a social context (Rogoff 2003; Vygotsky

    1978). Here there is a parallel with the strong view of the

    child articulated in the sociology of childhood. Much

    debate in the early childhood field has focused on the role

    of the adult in facilitating, supporting or scaffolding

    children’s learning (for example, see Lambert and Clyde

    2000). A repositioning has taken place in some early

    childhood institutions and schools where adults take on a

    role of co-learner in a community of learners (Rinaldi

    2001; Rogoff et al. 2001).

    Young Children, Meaning-making and Participatory


    There are several obstacles relating to power and com-

    munication that hinder the task of involving young children

    as active participants in the research process. The age and

    stage of development of a child can accentuate the power

    differences between adult researcher and research partici-

    pant. This power gap can be widened if the child also

    belongs to other marginalised groups taking into account

    gender, class and ethnicity. Young children can be viewed

    as presenting ‘communication difficulties’ in a research

    context due to their often non-literate status. However, just

    as in participatory rural appraisal discussed earlier, the

    communication difficulties can be viewed as resting with

    the researcher rather than the participants involved. One

    solution may rest in bringing together and adapting par-

    ticipatory methods with concepts and practices relating to


    These strands of participatory methods and young chil-

    dren as meaning-makers have come together in the devel-

    opment of the Mosaic approach (Clark 2004; Clark and

    Moss 2001, 2005). This is a multi-method ‘strength-based’

    framework for gathering young children’s views and

    experiences of their everyday lives. The phrase ‘‘strength-

    based’’ refers to the theoretical basis of the research

    approach. It encompasses a view of young children as

    competent beings who are ‘‘experts in their own lives’’

    (Langsted 1994); skilful communicators, active partici-

    pants, meaning makers, researchers and explorers (see

    Clark and Moss 2005, p. 5–8). This explicit attention to the

    value base of the research is one of the shared principles

    that the Mosaic approach shares with action research.

    Reason and Bradley identify this characteristic of action

    research as ‘‘strongly value orientated, seeking to address

    issues of significance concerning the flourishing of human

    persons, their communities, and the wider ecology in which

    we participate’’ (2006, p. xxii).

    The phrase ‘‘experts in their own lives’’ has become a

    way of summarising the theoretical standpoint on which

    the Mosaic approach is based. Langsted, a Danish sociol-

    ogist, was one of the researchers who took part in a

    116 Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123


    comparative study of the daily lives of five year-olds in five

    Nordic countries

    We tried to make the children experts in their own

    lives, and to inform them that this was the case. Many

    of the children were clearly unused to being regarded

    as the most important sources of information about

    their own lives in this way- certainly by an adult they

    hardly knew. It was obvious that the realization made

    them highly motivated to take an active part in the

    interview. (Langsted 1994, p. 35)

    The Mosaic approach brings together the tools of

    observation and interviewing with participatory tools to

    construct a composite picture or ‘mosaic’ of children’s

    lives. An important part of this process is to enable young

    children to play an active part in this image-building by

    exploring meanings with their peers, researchers and other

    adults. The participatory tools place an emphasis on visual

    or kinaesthetic methods.

    Children take their own photographs that are made into

    books of their images or shared with adults and children on

    a lap top computer. Child-led tours enable young children

    to guide adults around a familiar environment whilst

    making photographic and audio-recordings of the process.

    Tours as a method have their root in International Devel-

    opment where ‘transect walks’ are used in Participatory

    Rural Appraisal to enable non-literate communities to

    share their local knowledge (Hart 1997). The use of child-

    led tours privileges the ways that young children commu-

    nicate, in active, visual ways.

    Images from these tours can then be assembled by the

    children into maps. These maps may include children’s

    photographs, drawings and written comments (see for

    example, Clark and Moss 2001, p. 28–31 and Clark and

    Moss 2005, p. 39–43). Children may choose to make an

    individual map or a shared map with two or three other

    children. These maps are intended to be personal rather

    than geographical recordings of the space (Harmon 2004)

    where children can explore past and present feelings. Two-

    four year-old boys, for example, were engaged in making a

    shared map about their outdoor play area at preschool

    (Clark and Moss 2005, p. 37–43). This included a photo-

    graph one of the boys had taken of a pile of broken bicy-

    cles. The adults had removed the bicycles from the play

    space and left them behind a perimeter fence. The boys had

    taken the researcher to see the ‘‘tangled up bikes’’ on their

    tour. The children talked fondly about these old bikes and

    added the photograph of the bikes to their map (Clark and

    Moss 2005). Thus their map brought together past memo-

    ries of their environment with their present experiences.

    This documentation can make children’s perspectives

    visible in a way which can open up conversations with

    peers, practitioners, researchers and parents. A further tool,

    ‘‘the magic carpet’’ provides the opportunity for children to

    see and comment on images of other environments as a

    further catalyst for discussion (Clark and Moss 2005,

    p. 43–45). The images can include photographs taken by

    children and adults and can be viewed by a small group of

    children on a lap top or by a whole class using a projector.

    In one preschool for example, which was engaged in

    making changes to its outdoor play space (Clark and Moss

    2005) the ‘‘magic carpet’’ activity took part in the ‘‘home

    corner’’. Children watched and commented upon slides of

    their current outdoor area, their local park and town centre,

    and the researcher’s local play space.

    The approach is designed to be flexible to allow for

    other methods to be used according to individual children’s

    strengths or needs and the particular focus of the research.

    The emphasis is placed on the researcher adjusting to the

    modes of communication preferred by the children rather

    than those in which the researcher is most comfortable.

    The documentation produced in the forms of photo-

    books, maps and slide-shows provide a platform of com-

    munication. This links with another characteristic of action

    research identified by Reason and Bradbury: ‘‘…[it]
    engages with people in collaborative relationships, opening

    new ‘communicative spaces’ in which dialogue and

    development can flourish’’ (2006, p. xxii).

    The Studies

    The Mosaic approach was first developed during the

    ‘‘Listening to young children’’ study (Clark 2004; Clark

    and Moss 2001) with children under 5 years-old. The aim

    of this study was to include the ‘‘voice of the child’’ in an

    evaluation of a group of services for children and families.

    One of the catalysts for bringing together a range of visual,

    physical and verbal tools was to ‘‘tune into’’ the diverse

    ways of communication adopted by young children. This

    led to the inclusion of cameras as a means of enabling

    young children to express themselves in a medium that was

    enjoyable for the children and had status in an adult world

    (Clark and Moss 2001).

    The second study, Spaces to Play (Clark 2005; Clark

    and Moss 2005) adapted the Mosaic approach for involving

    young children in the redevelopment of an outdoor play

    area. This practical case study tested the applicability of the

    methods for providing a structure for children’s perspec-

    tives to become the focus for a design project. The study

    focused on a pre-school for children of three and four-


    The aim of the third study, ‘Living Spaces’ (Clark 2008,

    2010), was to place young children’s experiences of their

    This study was titled the ‘Modern Childhood in the Nordic

    Countries Project’ (BASUN).

    Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123 117


    early childhood environment at the centre of plans for

    designing new spaces. This 3 year longitudinal study

    involved two case studies based on actual design projects.

    The first of these centred on members of a nursery class

    and reception class

    in a primary school. The design project

    involved the moving of the nursery class from a free-

    standing single storey classroom into a new nursery unit

    within the school. The second case study focused on how to

    involve children and adults in a review of a recently

    completed children’s centre.

    Each of the studies outlined above have involved a

    blurring of the boundaries between children’s and adults’

    roles in the research process, as discussed by Reason and

    Bradbury (2006). It is necessary therefore to examine

    where the boundaries lie. The following sections illustrate

    the multiple roles played by both children and adult

    researcher in studies using the Mosaic approach before

    looking at relationships with the research audience.

    The Role of Young Children in Participatory Action


    Sharing power with research participants can occur in

    many forms and at different stages of the research process.

    One starting point with young children can be to hand over

    or share the control of research tools.

    Framing the research? Fig. 1 shows Meryl taking a

    photograph of her friend Clare (both 4 years-old) who is

    taking her photograph. The image of Meryl taking a pho-

    tograph of Clare is one example taken from the ‘‘Listening

    to young children’’ study. (Pseudonyms are used through-

    out this paper to refer to the children involved in the

    studies). It is a representation of children as co-researchers.

    The photograph was taken by Clare, of her friend, Meryl

    (they were both 4 years-old at the time). They used cam-

    eras as one of the tools to explore ‘What does it mean to be

    in this place?’ The aim of the research was to include

    children’s views and experiences of being at nursery in an

    evaluation of early childhood provision. This included

    taking photographs of important objects, places, people and

    things. Both the child in this photograph and the young

    photographer are playing active roles in the research pro-

    cess. The children are playing a central role in data gath-

    ering whilst the researcher looks on. (These roles will be

    examined in more detail later in the paper.) The over-

    arching research agenda has been chosen by the researcher

    and not the individual children. However, by asking young

    children to identify what is important to them in their

    immediate environment and by providing a tool that makes

    this task achievable, the children are knowledge-building.

    Some of the young children in the studies using the Mosaic

    approach have demonstrated how photography has enabled

    them to subvert the original research agenda. One example

    comes from the spaces to play study where the focus was

    on redesigning an outdoor play area (Clark 2005, 2007;

    Clark and Moss 2005). A 3 year-old boy made a book

    about the outdoor space with his own photographs. He was

    insistent on choosing a photograph of the indoor toilet on

    the front cover. His mother, on seeing his book confirmed

    that toilets were his current concern that far outweighed the

    well-intentioned research agenda.

    Christensen (2004) discusses the importance of tuning

    into children’s ‘‘cultures of communication’’ in order to

    reveal their local knowledge. The use of the cameras in the

    Mosaic approach appears to work in this way. Photographs

    have a ‘‘currency’’ in an adult world recognised by many of

    the young children encountered in the Mosaic approach

    studies carried out by the author and by others (for

    example, see Einarrsdottir 2005). But as Einarrsdottir

    comments, not all young children or all adults are drawn to

    this visual mode of communication (2005). It is important

    for participatory action research to include multiple ways

    of knowledge-building.

    Multiple roles. It is unlikely that any one research

    activity or tool will be accessible to all young children with

    different skills, cultural backgrounds and personalities.

    This suggests the importance of a multi-method approach

    in order to be as inclusive as possible and ‘‘play to young

    children’s strengths.’’ This can result in children being able

    to experiment with a range of different roles, some of

    Fig. 1 Meryl taking a photograph of her friend Clare (both 4 years-
    old) who is taking her photograph

    A Reception class is the first year of compulsory schooling in


    A Children’s Centre is an English government initiative to bring

    together services for families and children under 6 years old.

    118 Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123


    which will be very familiar whereas others may only have

    been witnessed as ‘‘adult roles’’ before. The following

    example of children’s multiple roles is taken from the

    Living Spaces study (Clark 2008, 2010).

    Jules, who was 4 years-old at the start of the study was

    one of a group of 23 children in the nursery and reception

    class who participated in the first phase of fieldwork during

    the 3 year study. He was a confident speaker and one of a

    high number of pupils in the school for whom English was

    an additional language. This phase took part over a

    3 month period at an early stage in the design process. The

    purpose was to find out more about how the young children

    experienced their existing environment. This was followed

    6 months later by participatory activities based on ideas for

    the outdoor play area. The final phase took place

    18 months later when Jules was one of 29 children to take

    part in a review of the completed new building.

    In the first phase of fieldwork, children took part in a

    range of participatory activities to explore their perspec-

    tives of their existing environment. This gave the children

    the opportunity to exercise a range of skills and experiment

    with different roles with the researcher. The study began by

    the researcher spending several days observing how the

    children made use of the physical environment, both

    indoors and outdoors. Jules was one of a group of children

    who were asked to photograph important places in the

    nursery using a disposable camera (see Fig. 2). He

    reviewed his photographs and selected images for his book

    about the nursery. He added his own captions to the book.

    During this process he was playing several roles including

    that of photographer, author and documenter. He then took

    the researcher on a tour of the site with Holly, another

    member of his class, using a digital camera and digital

    audio recorder. He gave his own commentary as he went

    and taught the researcher about his local knowledge of the

    space. This included insights into important ‘‘markers’’ in

    the space that had significance for many of the children but

    were not commented upon by the practitioners. The pegs

    were one such example. Jules photographed his own peg

    and took delight in finding objects with his name on them.

    He asked to have his photograph taken by his name card.

    The next research activity for Jules was to make a map

    of his tour, which included his own drawings and photo-

    graphs. This was a discursive process that involved Jules

    discussing the images he had taken with the researcher and

    peers and making decisions about which objects, places

    and people should be chosen to explain what was important

    about the nursery. This was not a search for the ‘‘right’’

    answer but an exploratory act of meaning-making. These

    activities were supplemented by an informal interview,

    which took place in pairs. This added further information

    about children’s understandings of the space, including the

    importance of the outdoors and specific pieces of play


    Researcher: Where is your favourite place inside?

    Jules: Outside!

    Researcher: Where is your favourite place outside?

    Molly: The bikes

    Jules: The balls

    Excerpt from Interview Transcripts, November 2004

    The researcher compiled a book of the children’s

    material that Jules helped to review by commenting on the

    photographs and quotes chosen. This book became a class

    record of the research process as well as a ‘communicative

    space’ to share with practitioners and the architect.

    Space for reflection was an important part of the

    research relationship established over many months with

    Jules and his contemporaries. Each new discussion about

    the study began by revisiting photographs and comments

    made by the children over the course of the study. Digital

    technology made this easier as the children could review

    their images on a lap top computer, and use the ‘‘mouse’’ to

    control which photographs they wished to stop and discuss.

    The longitudinal nature of the study emphasised that the

    meaning-making process was not a static one-off event but

    an on-going and dynamic relationship between the children

    and the place in which they spent many hours each day.

    The diagram in Fig. 3 illustrates the range of roles Jules

    and others experienced during the Living Spaces study. Not

    all the children played each of the roles but these were the

    ‘‘active ingredients’’ that led to the collective co-con-

    struction of the research material.

    The Role of Researcher in Participatory Action


    Authentic novice. The suggestion was made earlier that

    children’s changing roles in the research process has an

    Fig. 2 Photograph taken by Jules about the nursery

    Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123 119


    impact on the adult ‘‘players’’. If the emphasis is on

    co-construction rather than extraction of meaning then this

    can present opportunities for a different and potentially

    creative relationship. A researcher who shares power with

    children is relinquishing the need to ‘‘know all the

    answers.’’ Methodological literature on research with chil-

    dren maps out a continuum that ranges from those who see

    themselves as adopting a least-adult role (Mandell 1991)

    through to interested adult (Mayall 2008) to adult as expert

    (as discussed by Greene and Hill 2005). Different terms

    have been used to describe the middle ground between

    least-adult and expert role. Tammivaara and Enright (1986,

    quoted in Carr 2000, p. 46) refer to the researcher as

    ‘‘playing dumb’’ (implying that the researcher needs help

    and guidance). Another phrase to describe the researcher’s

    role could be ‘‘authentic novice’’ (Clark and Moss 2005)

    where a researcher acknowledges a lack of understanding

    about a particular setting or routine. The role of ‘‘authentic

    novice’’ has been one of the roles played by the researcher

    in developing the Mosaic approach. Returning to the

    example of the Living Spaces study, ‘‘authentic novice’’

    was an important role for the researcher. The term

    ‘‘authentic’’ implies that the researcher is not pretending

    not to know what are the children’s experiences of the

    space, but is genuinely hoping to learn from the children

    more about how they perceive their environment.

    The diagram in Fig. 4 shows the different roles the

    researcher played during the Living Spaces study. This

    array of roles is an indication of the complex multi-layered

    process of involving young children as co-researchers.

    There is an overlap between the roles played by adults and

    children. Both adult researcher and children acted as doc-

    umenters, photographers, reviewers and evaluators. Both

    adult researcher and children acted at times as teachers and

    artists. The researcher’s teaching role included instructing

    the children on how to use the cameras, operate a digital

    recorder and the lap top computer. However, there were

    some functions in which children took the lead and others

    that were the responsibility of the researcher. The balance

    between children’s and adults’ active participation differed

    throughout the research process. The research idea was an

    adult one, based on the earlier studies and initial discus-

    sions with practitioners and architects. The researcher

    played an active role in observing the children and carrying

    out interviews.

    However, children played an increasingly active role

    during the data gathering stage. Children were the only tour

    guides and took the lead in the map making. During the

    review stage of the study, the adult researcher was

    responsible for acting as a facilitator among the children,

    practitioners, parents and architects. Although the young

    children took part in the discussions to review the material,

    the adult researcher took a lead role in identifying common

    themes across the different data sets. The researcher was

    responsible for writing up the study. During the dissemi-

    nation phase, children’s photographs have played a sig-

    nificant role in communicating their perspectives but more

    attention is needed to involve young children more effec-

    tively in this stage of the research process.

    Researching with children, using participatory methods

    does not mean that adult researchers are abandoning their

    research roles, but the nature of their roles will change with

    new opportunities for the co-construction of meanings.

    This new knowledge may in turn raise ethical decisions

    about how this material should be shared and with whom.

    Working with young children as co-researchers heightens

    the need for adult co-researchers to consider what new

    knowledge is appropriate to share only within the research




    Map makers






    Tour guides




    Fig. 3 The range of children’s roles during the living spaces study



    Researcher Documenter

    Tour participant Photographer Teacher Analyst

    Learner Evaluator Observer Interviewer

    Fig. 4 The range of adult research roles during the living spaces

    120 Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123


    setting with parents and practitioners and which aspects of

    young children’s lives can be made visible to a wider


    There is an added demand within participatory action

    research for the researcher to make time for critical self-

    reflection (for example, see Torbert 2006), in which pre-

    senting conference papers and writing articles can play a

    part. As Gavinta and Cornwall comment: ‘‘Such critical

    self-learning is important not only for the weak and the

    powerless, but also for the more powerful actors who may

    themselves be trapped in received versions of their situa-

    tions’’ (2006, p. 77).

    The Role of the Research ‘‘Audience’’ in Participatory

    Action Research

    Do the changing roles of children within the research

    process have an impact on the research ‘‘audience?’’ The

    phrase ‘‘research audience’’ is used here to refer to adults in

    a variety of roles who will engage with the findings of the

    research. However, the word ‘‘audience’’ suggests a pre-

    senting of a final piece and research dissemination as

    perhaps a single event at one point in time. Participatory

    action research sets out to establish a different relationship

    with others beyond the immediate research group. There is

    an expectation of change, an active engagement with

    individuals and groups that is part of an on-going cycle of

    reviewing, discussing and acting upon new insights gained

    (for example, see Carr and Kemmis 1986). This active

    relationship was the intended aim of the Mosaic approach.

    Rather than present a polished final report to architects, the

    Living Spaces study was arranged with on-going exchan-

    ges between the researcher and key architects within the

    two case study projects, together with regular meetings

    with both architects’ practices. This links with Reason and

    Bradbury’s identification of action research as: ‘‘… a liv-
    ing, emergent process which cannot be pre-determined but

    changes and develops as those engaged deepen their

    understanding of the issues to be addressed and develop

    their capacity as co-inquiries both individually and col-

    lectively’’ (Reason and Bradbury 2006, p. xxii). Through-

    out the meetings and exchanges with adults and children,

    young children’s perspectives have been mediated through

    their photographs and maps.

    The image in Fig. 5 shows maps produced by three and

    4 year-olds who were involved in the first phase of the

    Living Spaces study. These maps contained the children’s

    drawings and photographs about their existing nursery.

    These maps were discussed by the architects to see what

    insights they might contain about young children’s priori-

    ties, interests and perspectives on their existing environ-

    ment. These discussions were supplemented by other

    research material produced by the children. This included

    copies of the individual photo-books the children had made

    of their nursery and a slide show of child-led tours around

    the nursery and the surrounding school.

    The purpose of these discussions was not to replace the

    architects’ professional expertise in designing future

    spaces. It was more a case of increasing the architects’

    understanding of how the youngest users of the spaces they

    design might perceive these environments, which in turn

    might enable the architects’ design expertise to be

    employed in new and imaginative ways. This process could

    be seen as enabling architects and designers to ‘‘see’’ the

    social and cultural world of young children. However, the

    role of researcher was an important part of the mediation

    that took place between the architects and these artefacts.

    Without this ‘‘bridge’’, more of the children’s interpreta-

    tions would have remained inaccessible.

    Democratic forms of Knowledge Creation for Young

    Children and Adults

    This paper sets out to consider the impact of carrying out

    participatory action research with young children, the

    researcher and the research audience. One question that

    arises is whether there should be a category of participatory

    research methods that are adopted solely with young chil-

    dren? There appear to be new possibilities for inter-gen-

    erational and professional/lay communication that the use

    of participatory, visual methods with young children has

    facilitated. However, as considered earlier, one of the

    catalysts for these methods came from research and

    development projects with adults using techniques used in

    participatory rural appraisal programmes. Perhaps some of

    the adaptations made to these methods whilst working with

    young children can now be reapplied to adults to make

    certain ‘‘voices’’ more visible. This is the direction that

    research with the Mosaic approach has led (Clark 2008,

    2010). The Living Spaces study’s advisory group, which is

    Fig. 5 Architects engaging with documentation produced by young

    Am J Community Psychol (2010) 46:115–123 121


    comprised of researchers, architects and early childhood

    practitioners, encouraged the trial of the methods with

    adults and young children. The challenge was to see if

    tours and map making could be used as research activities

    to help practitioners and parents reflect on and share their

    perspectives of their environment. This led to new mosaics

    of maps made by adults and young children who together

    were part of the early childhood community. These arte-

    facts provided bridges for participation for adults and

    children (Clark 2008, 2010).

    This suggests that age is not a critical factor in partici-

    patory action research, although sensitivity and imagina-

    tion is needed to ‘‘tune into’’ whatever are the strengths of a

    particular research group. What is more important is the

    theoretical standpoint on which the research is based: are

    both adults and children seen as ‘‘experts in their own

    lives’’, skilful communicators, active participants, meaning

    makers, researchers and explorers?


    This paper has examined how young children can play an

    active part in participatory action research. Knowledge-

    building by children in the research process has been

    encouraged in childhood research as well as by researchers

    working with children and adults in participatory action

    research projects. A further stimulus has come from par-

    ticipatory approaches to learning that view young children

    as meaning-makers.

    Participatory, visual research methods provide possi-

    bilities for young children and adults to engage in alter-

    native forms of knowledge construction that in turn present

    challenges to researchers and research audiences. These

    complex explorations do not provide quick solutions to

    ‘‘user engagement’’ but may contribute to new under-

    standings between children and adults, professionals and

    lay communities. Perhaps this can be seen as a form of

    ‘‘slow knowledge’’ not retrievable in the same way through

    a questionnaire but with the possibility of more rewarding

    and surprising results.

    Acknowledgment I would like to thank the children, practitioners,
    architects and parents who have taken part in the case studies

    described. The Living Spaces study is funded by the Bernard van Leer

    Foundation. An earlier draft of this paper was presented as a paper at

    the European Early Childhood Education Research Association Pre

    Conference on Qualitative Research Methods in 2007.


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    Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

    • c.10464_2010_Article_9332
    • Young Children as Protagonists and the Role of Participatory, Visual Methods in Engaging Multiple Perspectives
      Children as Active Participants in Research
      Meaning Making and Learning
      Young Children, Meaning-making and Participatory Research
      The Studies
      The Role of Young Children in Participatory Action Research
      The Role of Researcher in Participatory Action Research
      The Role of the Research ‘‘Audience’’ in Participatory Action Research
      Democratic forms of Knowledge Creation for Young Children and Adults


    Reviewed Work(s): Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation by Jean Lave
    and Etienne Wenger

    Review by: Eugene Matusov, Nancy Bell and Barbara Rogoff

    Source: American Ethnologist , Nov., 1994, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), pp. 918-919

    Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

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    All use subject to

    virtue of their application of different universalizing
    strategies), Shweder makes reference to Ruth
    Benedict and her “arc of human possibilities” (p.
    109) as an ancestor figure for the cultural psychol-
    ogy of today. This image of cultural selection or
    amplification from panhuman potentials also in-
    forms the essay on emotion, which posits a universal
    set of discrete affects underlying early emotional
    experience everywhere. Shweder seems much more
    amenable to universalist and developmentalist as-
    sumptions in postulating that a “keyboard” of emo-
    tions labeled with English terms such as disgust,
    interest, distress, and anger is “for any normal mem-
    ber of our species … intact and available by the age
    of four years” (p. 259).

    While this blending of relativist and universalist
    agendas may disturb those who prefer theoretical
    purity, much of the strength of these essays derives
    from the author’s abi I ity to go beyond the categorical
    distinctions and dichotomies that have often con-

    strained progress in anthropological theory. Integra-
    tive visions in anthropological theory have been
    hard to come by of late. Here is one that should
    inspire (and, in the author’s terms, “astonish”) for
    some time to come.

    Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Par-
    ticipation. JEAN LAVE and ETIENNE WENGER.
    Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive, and Com-
    putational Perspectives. ROY PEA and JOHN
    SEELY BROWN, gen. eds. Cambridge and New
    York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 138
    pp., references, index.


    University of California, Santa Cruz
    University of Utah

    Situated Learning is essential reading for scholars
    interested in processes of learning and change as
    they involve individuals in sociocultural activity.
    Lave and Wenger’s essay provides a reconceptuali-
    zation of learning as a process of social and personal
    transformation in communities of practice. Jean
    Lave and Etienne Wenger (and William Hanks, in
    his thoughtful foreward) contribute a deep analysis
    and a direction for future work, advancing sociocul-
    tural theory, participating in a major paradigm shift
    currently underway across a variety of social science
    disciplines including anthropology, psychology,
    education, sociology, and linguistics.

    Lave and Wenger’s approach contrasts with per-
    spectives on learning that focus on acquisition of
    knowledge by isolated individuals and on the effi-
    ciency, techniques, and technologies of learning
    that stem from school practices. In Lave and
    Wenger’s perspective, it is crucial that theoretical
    focus not be on learning itself (which would implic-
    itly define learning as an independent activity). In-
    stead, their theoretical starting place is learning situ-
    ated in the practices of communities, with learning
    viewed as a feature of membership in a community
    of practice. A novice is not just a person who lacks
    entities called “skills” but a newcomer who negoti-
    ates and renegotiates participation in the commu-

    virtue of their application of different universalizing
    strategies), Shweder makes reference to Ruth
    Benedict and her “arc of human possibilities” (p.
    109) as an ancestor figure for the cultural psychol-
    ogy of today. This image of cultural selection or
    amplification from panhuman potentials also in-
    forms the essay on emotion, which posits a universal
    set of discrete affects underlying early emotional
    experience everywhere. Shweder seems much more
    amenable to universalist and developmentalist as-
    sumptions in postulating that a “keyboard” of emo-
    tions labeled with English terms such as disgust,
    interest, distress, and anger is “for any normal mem-
    ber of our species … intact and available by the age
    of four years” (p. 259).
    While this blending of relativist and universalist
    agendas may disturb those who prefer theoretical
    purity, much of the strength of these essays derives
    from the author’s abi I ity to go beyond the categorical
    distinctions and dichotomies that have often con-
    strained progress in anthropological theory. Integra-
    tive visions in anthropological theory have been
    hard to come by of late. Here is one that should
    inspire (and, in the author’s terms, “astonish”) for
    some time to come.
    Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Par-
    ticipation. JEAN LAVE and ETIENNE WENGER.
    Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive, and Com-
    putational Perspectives. ROY PEA and JOHN
    SEELY BROWN, gen. eds. Cambridge and New
    York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 138
    pp., references, index.
    University of California, Santa Cruz
    University of Utah
    Situated Learning is essential reading for scholars
    interested in processes of learning and change as
    they involve individuals in sociocultural activity.
    Lave and Wenger’s essay provides a reconceptuali-
    zation of learning as a process of social and personal
    transformation in communities of practice. Jean
    Lave and Etienne Wenger (and William Hanks, in
    his thoughtful foreward) contribute a deep analysis
    and a direction for future work, advancing sociocul-
    tural theory, participating in a major paradigm shift
    currently underway across a variety of social science
    disciplines including anthropology, psychology,
    education, sociology, and linguistics.
    Lave and Wenger’s approach contrasts with per-
    spectives on learning that focus on acquisition of
    knowledge by isolated individuals and on the effi-
    ciency, techniques, and technologies of learning
    that stem from school practices. In Lave and
    Wenger’s perspective, it is crucial that theoretical
    focus not be on learning itself (which would implic-
    itly define learning as an independent activity). In-
    stead, their theoretical starting place is learning situ-
    ated in the practices of communities, with learning
    viewed as a feature of membership in a community
    of practice. A novice is not just a person who lacks
    entities called “skills” but a newcomer who negoti-
    ates and renegotiates participation in the commu-

    nity of practice. Lave and Wenger stress that learning
    relationships are situated in the broader relation-
    ships of community life and that learning processes
    entail both the development of individuals’ mem-
    bership in the community and the shaping of iden-

    Situated Learning stresses the peripheral character
    of this process. The focal process is the commun ity’s
    practice, the activity in which the community func-
    tions. Learning as a process of negotiation of partici-
    pation in community practice is not primetime com-
    munity business; it goes on at the periphery of
    community activity. Because the community is
    aware of newcomers, the peripheral process of par-
    ticipation negotiation has a legitimate character,
    anticipated and often organized by the community.
    Lave and Wenger’s analysis of situated learning is
    embodied in their productive concept of “legitimate
    peripheral participation.”

    Lave and Wenger stress the spiral character of
    changes in the community, where there is not only
    displacement of oldtimers by newcomers but also
    changes in community practice. The spiral character
    of changes also occurs on the newcomers’ level of
    personal development as they engage in existing
    practices that have developed over time, and at the
    same time contribute to the development of com-
    munity practice “as they begin to establish their own
    identity in its future” (p. 1 5). In this way, the authors
    reject the notion of learning as internalization of the
    cultural “given.”

    Legitimate peripheral participation is supported
    by systems of relationship in community that are not
    only limited to the relationship between newcomers
    and oldtimers, but also include relationships with
    outside communities and with other newcomers.

    The relationships in communities of practice do not
    necessarily facilitate learning, as Lave and Wenger
    demonstrate in their analysis of how social relations
    in the supermarket industry resist learning by the
    apprentice supermarket meat cutters, because the
    interests in exploitation of the apprentices preclude
    the apprentices’ peripheral participation.

    Lave and Wenger also analyze legitimate periph-
    eral participation in the apprenticeship of Yucatec
    midwives, Liberian tailors, naval quartermasters,
    and nondrinking alcoholics in Alcoholics Anony-
    mous. These cases lead to very important points
    about the structure of learning in apprenticeship,
    such as the observation that the order of learning in
    apprenticeship is specialized rather than simply fol-
    lowing the order of subtasks in carrying out skilled

    Apprenticeship in this essay is not limited to the
    feudal form of apprenticeship, but rather involves
    situations in which learning is an indivisible part of
    community practice.

    To be able to participate in a legitimately periph-
    eral way entails that newcomers have broad ac-
    cess to arenas of mature practice…. An
    apprentice’s contributions to ongoing activity
    gain value in practice…. As opportunities for
    understanding how well or poorly one’s efforts
    contribute are evident in practice, legitimate par-
    ticipation of a peripheral kind provides an imme-
    diate ground for self-evaluation. The sparsity of

    nity of practice. Lave and Wenger stress that learning
    relationships are situated in the broader relation-
    ships of community life and that learning processes
    entail both the development of individuals’ mem-
    bership in the community and the shaping of iden-
    Situated Learning stresses the peripheral character
    of this process. The focal process is the commun ity’s
    practice, the activity in which the community func-
    tions. Learning as a process of negotiation of partici-
    pation in community practice is not primetime com-
    munity business; it goes on at the periphery of
    community activity. Because the community is
    aware of newcomers, the peripheral process of par-
    ticipation negotiation has a legitimate character,
    anticipated and often organized by the community.
    Lave and Wenger’s analysis of situated learning is
    embodied in their productive concept of “legitimate
    peripheral participation.”
    Lave and Wenger stress the spiral character of
    changes in the community, where there is not only
    displacement of oldtimers by newcomers but also
    changes in community practice. The spiral character
    of changes also occurs on the newcomers’ level of
    personal development as they engage in existing
    practices that have developed over time, and at the
    same time contribute to the development of com-
    munity practice “as they begin to establish their own
    identity in its future” (p. 1 5). In this way, the authors
    reject the notion of learning as internalization of the
    cultural “given.”
    Legitimate peripheral participation is supported
    by systems of relationship in community that are not
    only limited to the relationship between newcomers
    and oldtimers, but also include relationships with
    outside communities and with other newcomers.
    The relationships in communities of practice do not
    necessarily facilitate learning, as Lave and Wenger
    demonstrate in their analysis of how social relations
    in the supermarket industry resist learning by the
    apprentice supermarket meat cutters, because the
    interests in exploitation of the apprentices preclude
    the apprentices’ peripheral participation.
    Lave and Wenger also analyze legitimate periph-
    eral participation in the apprenticeship of Yucatec
    midwives, Liberian tailors, naval quartermasters,
    and nondrinking alcoholics in Alcoholics Anony-
    mous. These cases lead to very important points
    about the structure of learning in apprenticeship,
    such as the observation that the order of learning in
    apprenticeship is specialized rather than simply fol-
    lowing the order of subtasks in carrying out skilled
    Apprenticeship in this essay is not limited to the
    feudal form of apprenticeship, but rather involves
    situations in which learning is an indivisible part of
    community practice.
    To be able to participate in a legitimately periph-
    eral way entails that newcomers have broad ac-
    cess to arenas of mature practice…. An
    apprentice’s contributions to ongoing activity
    gain value in practice…. As opportunities for
    understanding how well or poorly one’s efforts
    contribute are evident in practice, legitimate par-
    ticipation of a peripheral kind provides an imme-
    diate ground for self-evaluation. The sparsity of

    918 american ethnologist 918 american ethnologist

    This content downloaded from
    ������������ on Thu, 11 Aug 2022 05:35:32 UTC�������������
    All use subject to

    tests, praise, or blame typical of apprenticeship
    follows from the apprentice’s legitimacy as a par-
    ticipant…. A deeper sense of the value of par-
    ticipation to the community and the learner lies
    in becoming part of the community. [pp. 110-

    Lave and Wenger contrast apprenticeship with
    schooling, where newcomers are separated from
    community practice and subjected to the parasitic
    practice of test taking, “the goal of which is to
    increase the exchange value of learning inde-
    pendently of its use value” (p. 112). The authors
    argue that a teaching curriculum, which involves the
    oldtimers’ requirements for the newcomers to be
    fully accepted (as in testing in schools), does not
    provide learning; learning is provided only by a
    learning curriculum involving negotiation of partici-
    pation in community practice from the perspective
    of newcomers.

    This sociocultural approach to learning has vast
    implications for social research and social practice.
    Although Lave and Wenger attempt to avoid discus-
    sion of practices in schools, itwill be very interesting
    to follow efforts to restructure schools to focus on

    learning and on communities of practice that may
    fit well with legitimate peripheral participation. We
    expect that this book will be a landmark in showing
    the way to reconceptualize individual participation
    as constituting communities of practice, which at the
    same time constitute individual participation and
    attendant learning.

    Rethinking Context: Language as an Interac-
    tive Phenomenon. ALESSANDRO DURANTI

    and CHARLES GOODWIN, eds. Studies in the
    Social and Cultural Foundations of Language,
    11. KEITH H. BASSO et al., eds. Cambridge:
    Cambridge University Press, 1992. viii + 363
    pp., tables, notes, references, index.


    Union College

    Rethinking Context examines the relationship be-
    tween talk and “context,” loosely defined as “a
    frame … that surrounds the event being examined
    and provides resources for its appropriate interpre-
    tation” (p. 3), including the social and spatial setting;
    nonverbal behavior; the surrounding conversation;
    shared ideas about speech genres; background
    knowledge that interactants draw on; and various
    rules about who can speak authoritatively. The edi-
    tors caution, however, that “context” is not a given;
    instead, “contextualization cues” (things like pros-
    ody, tense switches, and nonverbal communication)
    and “indexes” define the context within which

    words should be interpreted. Goodwin and Duranti
    then review various traditions that share a concern

    with the ways meaning is bound up with context
    and/or ways speech constitutes context including:
    early ethnographic work by Malinowski; the work
    of such philosophers of language as Austin, Wittgen-
    stein, Bakhtin, and Vygotsky; Bateson and Goff-
    man’s work on framing; the ethnography of speak-
    ing; ethnomethodology; conversation analysis; and
    the work of Foucault.

    tests, praise, or blame typical of apprenticeship
    follows from the apprentice’s legitimacy as a par-
    ticipant…. A deeper sense of the value of par-
    ticipation to the community and the learner lies
    in becoming part of the community. [pp. 110-
    Lave and Wenger contrast apprenticeship with
    schooling, where newcomers are separated from
    community practice and subjected to the parasitic
    practice of test taking, “the goal of which is to
    increase the exchange value of learning inde-
    pendently of its use value” (p. 112). The authors
    argue that a teaching curriculum, which involves the
    oldtimers’ requirements for the newcomers to be
    fully accepted (as in testing in schools), does not
    provide learning; learning is provided only by a
    learning curriculum involving negotiation of partici-
    pation in community practice from the perspective
    of newcomers.
    This sociocultural approach to learning has vast
    implications for social research and social practice.
    Although Lave and Wenger attempt to avoid discus-
    sion of practices in schools, itwill be very interesting
    to follow efforts to restructure schools to focus on
    learning and on communities of practice that may
    fit well with legitimate peripheral participation. We
    expect that this book will be a landmark in showing
    the way to reconceptualize individual participation
    as constituting communities of practice, which at the
    same time constitute individual participation and
    attendant learning.
    Rethinking Context: Language as an Interac-
    tive Phenomenon. ALESSANDRO DURANTI
    and CHARLES GOODWIN, eds. Studies in the
    Social and Cultural Foundations of Language,
    11. KEITH H. BASSO et al., eds. Cambridge:
    Cambridge University Press, 1992. viii + 363
    pp., tables, notes, references, index.
    Union College
    Rethinking Context examines the relationship be-
    tween talk and “context,” loosely defined as “a
    frame … that surrounds the event being examined
    and provides resources for its appropriate interpre-
    tation” (p. 3), including the social and spatial setting;
    nonverbal behavior; the surrounding conversation;
    shared ideas about speech genres; background
    knowledge that interactants draw on; and various
    rules about who can speak authoritatively. The edi-
    tors caution, however, that “context” is not a given;
    instead, “contextualization cues” (things like pros-
    ody, tense switches, and nonverbal communication)
    and “indexes” define the context within which
    words should be interpreted. Goodwin and Duranti
    then review various traditions that share a concern
    with the ways meaning is bound up with context
    and/or ways speech constitutes context including:
    early ethnographic work by Malinowski; the work
    of such philosophers of language as Austin, Wittgen-
    stein, Bakhtin, and Vygotsky; Bateson and Goff-
    man’s work on framing; the ethnography of speak-
    ing; ethnomethodology; conversation analysis; and
    the work of Foucault.

    The papers draw on these various traditions.
    Many of the contributors point to the importance of
    taking into account the ways in which often-ne-
    glected aspects of speech define context. In a subtle
    analysis, William Hanks argues that referential in-
    dexes define both a figure (the referent) and the
    “indexical context” (the context that the referent is
    defined in relation to), which continually changes
    during interaction (for example, when a speaker
    quotes someone else, the “indexical context” is the
    context in which the original statement was pro-
    duced). Examining indexes provides a way to study
    how such changes are reflected in, and defined by,
    speech. Duranti analyzes the use of respect vocabu-
    lary in Samoa and finds that Samoans do not always
    use respect language to talk to and about high-status
    people. Instead, people use respect vocabulary to
    define the context as, for instance, a formal one and
    to constrain the addressee to act in the controlled

    and dignified manner appropriate to high rank. Lind-
    strom examines a meeting about a dispute on Tanna,
    Vanuatu, and argues that discursive rules defining
    who can speak authoritatively are an important part
    of the “context.” But participants, themselves, stra-
    tegically define the context as a kind of problem over
    which they have authority to speak. Bauman shows
    how folklore genres (in this case tales about magical
    poets told by Icelanders) often contain other genres
    (such as magical poems). Each genre acts as context,
    giving meaning to the other. Bauman also shows
    how speakers define genre by using stylistic devices
    including elements that “traditionalize” by estab-
    lishing the speaker’s authority. Gumperz summa-
    rizes his own work on contextualization cues and

    shows their importance by analyzing miscommuni-
    cation between two speakers who do not share
    contextualization conventions. Ellen Basso exam-
    ines the use of contextualization cues, such as tense
    switches by storytellers among the Kalapalo of Bra-
    zil, to send subtle messages about the events they
    are describing. Gaik shows how radio talk-show
    therapists use the irrealis tense to signal that they are
    in “therapy” rather than “counseling” mode. Finally,
    drawing on Goffman’s notion of framing, Kendon
    argues that interactants define both a focal event and
    a background or “disattend track.” Nonverbal cues
    framed as irrelevant, nevertheless, significantly af-
    fect meaning and can be used by participants to
    influence events unofficially.

    Other papers draw on conversation analysis to
    show how interactants collaboratively construct
    “context.” Goodwin and Goodwin show how “as-

    sessments” in conversation are used to negotiate and
    display a common “experiential world” and, per-
    haps, even to construct shared cultural under-
    standings. Speakers drop cues that allow listeners to
    anticipate and echo the speaker’s assessment of a
    situation and will make repairs if the listener misses
    cues and responds inappropriately. In a provocative
    contribution, Susan Philips examines repairs in the
    speech of U.S. judges and suggests that, while con-
    versation analysts say repairs show how speakers
    spontaneously adjust their speech in response to
    listeners, examining the same speaker on different
    occasions can show that some repairs are routinized
    and may have little to do with back-channeling from
    the audience.

    The papers draw on these various traditions.
    Many of the contributors point to the importance of
    taking into account the ways in which often-ne-
    glected aspects of speech define context. In a subtle
    analysis, William Hanks argues that referential in-
    dexes define both a figure (the referent) and the
    “indexical context” (the context that the referent is
    defined in relation to), which continually changes
    during interaction (for example, when a speaker
    quotes someone else, the “indexical context” is the
    context in which the original statement was pro-
    duced). Examining indexes provides a way to study
    how such changes are reflected in, and defined by,
    speech. Duranti analyzes the use of respect vocabu-
    lary in Samoa and finds that Samoans do not always
    use respect language to talk to and about high-status
    people. Instead, people use respect vocabulary to
    define the context as, for instance, a formal one and
    to constrain the addressee to act in the controlled
    and dignified manner appropriate to high rank. Lind-
    strom examines a meeting about a dispute on Tanna,
    Vanuatu, and argues that discursive rules defining
    who can speak authoritatively are an important part
    of the “context.” But participants, themselves, stra-
    tegically define the context as a kind of problem over
    which they have authority to speak. Bauman shows
    how folklore genres (in this case tales about magical
    poets told by Icelanders) often contain other genres
    (such as magical poems). Each genre acts as context,
    giving meaning to the other. Bauman also shows
    how speakers define genre by using stylistic devices
    including elements that “traditionalize” by estab-
    lishing the speaker’s authority. Gumperz summa-
    rizes his own work on contextualization cues and
    shows their importance by analyzing miscommuni-
    cation between two speakers who do not share
    contextualization conventions. Ellen Basso exam-
    ines the use of contextualization cues, such as tense
    switches by storytellers among the Kalapalo of Bra-
    zil, to send subtle messages about the events they
    are describing. Gaik shows how radio talk-show
    therapists use the irrealis tense to signal that they are
    in “therapy” rather than “counseling” mode. Finally,
    drawing on Goffman’s notion of framing, Kendon
    argues that interactants define both a focal event and
    a background or “disattend track.” Nonverbal cues
    framed as irrelevant, nevertheless, significantly af-
    fect meaning and can be used by participants to
    influence events unofficially.
    Other papers draw on conversation analysis to
    show how interactants collaboratively construct
    “context.” Goodwin and Goodwin show how “as-
    sessments” in conversation are used to negotiate and
    display a common “experiential world” and, per-
    haps, even to construct shared cultural under-
    standings. Speakers drop cues that allow listeners to
    anticipate and echo the speaker’s assessment of a
    situation and will make repairs if the listener misses
    cues and responds inappropriately. In a provocative
    contribution, Susan Philips examines repairs in the
    speech of U.S. judges and suggests that, while con-
    versation analysts say repairs show how speakers
    spontaneously adjust their speech in response to
    listeners, examining the same speaker on different
    occasions can show that some repairs are routinized
    and may have little to do with back-channeling from
    the audience.

    reviews 919 reviews 919

    This content downloaded from
    ������������ on Thu, 11 Aug 2022 05:35:32 UTC�������������
    All use subject to

    • Contents
    • image 1
      image 2

    • Issue Table of Contents
    • American Ethnologist, Vol. 21, No. 4, Nov., 1994
      Volume Information [pp. 1136 – 1168]
      Front Matter
      Culture-Making: Performing Aboriginality at the Asia Society Gallery [pp. 679 – 699]
      “Yearnings”: Televisual Love and Melodramatic Politics in Contemporary China [pp. 700 – 722]
      Dialogic Dreams: Creative Selves Coming into Life in the Flow of Time [pp. 723 – 745]
      De-Orientalizing the Chinese Family Firm [pp. 746 – 775]
      Stories from Home: First Nations, Land Claims, and Euro-Canadians [pp. 776 – 791]
      Peasants, Capitalism, and (Ir)Rationality [pp. 792 – 810]
      Ways of Knowing Islam [pp. 811 – 826]
      To Sell or Not to Sell? Theory versus Practice, Public versus Private, and the Failure of Liberalism: The Case of Israel and Its Palestinian Citizens [pp. 827 – 844]
      Comments and Reflections
      On Warfare: An Answer to N. A. Chagnon [pp. 845 – 862]
      Comment on Eugene Cooper’s “Cousin Marriage in Rural China” [pp. 863 – 864]
      Reply to David Schneider on “Cousin Marriage in Rural China” [pp. 865 – 866]
      Review Articles
      On Fixing Ethnographic Shadows [pp. 867 – 885]
      Museums and the Reformulation of Ethnographic Practice [pp. 886 – 891]
      Subaltern Historiography on the Rio Grande: On Gutiérrez’s “When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away” [pp. 892 – 899]
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      Back Matter [pp. 1132 – 1135]

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    Environmental Education Research

    ISSN: 1350-4622 (Print) 1469-5871 (Online) Journal homepage:

    Pre-school children’s agency in learning for
    sustainable development

    Cecilia Caiman & Iann Lundegård

    To cite this article: Cecilia Caiman & Iann Lundegård (2014) Pre-school children’s agency in
    learning for sustainable development, Environmental Education Research, 20:4, 437-459, DOI:

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    Published online: 24 Jul 2013.

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    Pre-school children’s agency in learning for sustainable

    Cecilia Caiman* and Iann Lundegård

    Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Stockholm University, Stockholm,

    (Received 25 June 2012; final version received 19 May 2013)

    In recent years, there has been a growing interest in pre-school children’s
    meaning-making and learning in education for sustainability. Young children
    should be recognized as ‘agents for change’ and active participants in their own
    day-to-day practices. Such issues are thoroughly discussed in the early child-
    hood education for sustainability field. However, only a few research reports are
    presented on the subject. In this paper, our purpose is to examine empirically
    how agency is constituted when pre-school children explore science-related
    issues in a context of education for sustainability. The empirical material con-
    sists of video-recording sequences of four- to five-year-olds. In the analysis, we
    use a methodological approach based on Dewey’s pragmatist philosophy. We
    describe what a small group of children are doing and their ‘course of action’
    towards ‘fulfilment’. In view of this, agency is explained as something that
    children achieve together in transactions rather than something they possess.
    Furthermore, the findings show the significance of the aesthetic relations in the
    constitution of agency. At the end of the article, we also discuss agency in rela-
    tion to the ongoing debate on participation in young children’s meaning-making
    for sustainability.

    Keywords: agency; pre-school children; sustainable development; experience;
    anticipation; course of action


    In philosophy and sociology, agency has generally been described as the capacity
    of individuals to influence and steer their lives. Here, agency is often viewed as an
    entity or as an internal ability. Researchers have shown interest in the close bond
    between agency and structure, a condition for individual action (Archer 1995,
    2003). Studies have been conducted which highlight the subject within the tension-
    laden unit, agency/structure (Goulart and Roth 2010). The discussion regarding
    student’s possibilities to initiate, pursue learning processes and develop greater par-
    ticipation has been examined and brought forth in different contexts. Concepts such
    as empowerment (Dillon 2012), action competence (Chawla and Cushing 2007;
    Mogenen and Schnack 2010), participation (Hart 1997) and pluralism (Öhman and
    Östman 2008; Lundegård and Wickman 2012) have been used in order to challenge
    earlier normative tendencies in education and meaning-making in environmental

    *Corresponding author. Email:

    Environmental Education Research, 2014
    Vol. 20, No. 4, 437–459,

    � 2013 Taylor & Francis

    education (EE)/education for sustainable development (ESD). This means that
    agency has become a concept which in turn it is important to pay attention to
    within early childhood education and science education. In this paper, we are not
    interested in trying to proclaim or capture a general definition of what agency is
    and whether it is on a sociocultural or an individual level. Instead, we, in agreement
    with Wittgenstein ([1953] 1997), search for the meaning of a concept in its use.
    Therefore, we are not trying to define agency but we strive to capture a method to
    describe children’s abilities to participate and take control of their activities. The
    advantage with the implementation of a concept such as agency is that it aids us to
    describe to what extent children are in charge of the entire meaning-making

    Young children’s active participation and agency in everyday educational
    practices is also highly prioritized and discussed on a policy level in early child-
    hood education for sustainability (ECEfS) (Pramling Samuelsson and Kaga 2008;
    Davis 2009; Elliot and Davis 2009; Hägglund and Pramling Samuelsson 2009;
    Persson and Degotardi 2009; Goulart and Roth 2010). Blanchet-Cohen (2008) stres-
    ses that there has been almost a paradigm shift in how children are viewed today
    and in this new agenda, the notion of agency is of great significance. Davis (2008),
    Bigger and Webb (2010) emphasize specifically the importance in an uncertain and
    diverse world of recognizing young children as ‘agents for change’. More than ever
    before, in a world burdened with uncertainty and disquieting future prognoses,
    poverty, natural disasters, increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other pressing
    sustainability issues, the situation demands empowering the next generation with
    positive beliefs and to entrust them to participate and contribute in a democratic
    way to future sustainability (Chawla and Cushing 2007; Siraj-Blatchford 2009;
    Price 2010). Valentine (2011) claims that the concept of agency has to go beyond
    traditional individualistic ideas of personal choice and self-directed actions, framed
    by liberal ideas. Current relationship between society and the free market encour-
    ages ideas that emphasize instrumental aspects of learning (Jickling and Wals
    2008). Moreover, Dahlberg (2003), Dahlberg and Moss (2005) and Urban (2008)
    have been concerned about the neoliberal tendency in early childhood education
    and accompanying concepts, such as ‘quality’ and ‘competence’. On the other hand,
    they argue that such tendencies can partly be challenged by consequently highlight-
    ing a listening approach for what is going on among the children. What are they in
    fact exploring and what is it that interests them?

    In this field, where a far-reaching debate about different notions of agency is
    emerging, it is without a doubt that agency ought to play a key role in children’s
    meaning-making in relation to questions concerning sustainable development.
    Accordingly, we can identify two strong reasons why agency is important to study.
    First, we concur with the emphasis on the democratic dimensions which cherish
    children’s possibilities in accordance with pluralism, i.e. to take initiative, give
    directions and make decisions in their daily lives. Secondly, we use our empirical
    examples to show how the children’s anticipation, initiative and decisions are a
    process of mutual and cooperative participation.

    The question about how agency emerges and is being constituted among young
    children still needs to be empirically examined. In this study, we investigate what
    occurs when children are faced with a problem and bring about a change in the
    context of sustainable development. By using Dewey’s ideas about contingency and
    continuity within experience (Dewey [1934] 1980, [1938] 1997) and in the light of

    438 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    our empirical findings, we elaborate the notion of agency as an open-ended, situated
    and transactional process.

    Early childhood education, agency and sustainable issues

    It has been claimed that one of the key present and future challenges during the UN
    Decade of ESD is about listening to those who usually do not get privileged influence
    (Reid and Scott 2006). Likewise, Elliot and Davis (2009), Hägglund and Pramling
    Samuelsson (2009) emphasize that the youngest children, those who will stay longest
    on the planet and, by far, are the most potential group that can contribute to global
    change over time, should be considered as most important decision makers. Young
    children also deserve to be well thought of as active stakeholders and participants on
    issues concerning the environment and its sustainability. During the last decades, sev-
    eral researchers also have claimed that pluralism ought to be a substantial part of EE
    and ESD (Stables and Scott 2002; Wals and Jickling 2002; Öhman 2006; Lundegård
    and Wickman 2009). Furthermore, agency can convincingly contribute to the
    pluralistic tradition in ESD in which the emphasis is on the importance of allowing
    students to bring a diversity of different perspectives, values and views1 with refer-
    ence to sustainability issues into light (Öhman 2006, 2008; Lundegård and Wickman
    2007; Öhman and Östman 2008; Rudsberg and Öhman 2010). In this study, instead
    of specifically addressing pluralism, we have chosen the concept of agency, as it is
    frequently talked about not exclusively within ECEfS-field but also in a broader sense
    when regarding the children’s environmental influences and involvement as a whole
    (Blanchet-Cohen 2008; Davis 2010). The writings of Moss (2007) have noticeable
    similarities with the pluralistic approach in ESD, he argues that early childhood
    education ‘offers the prospect of infinite possibilities informed by multiple
    perspectives, local knowledges, provisional truths’ (16).

    Unfortunately, only a few research reports in the areas of early childhood, EE
    and ESD were published between 1997 and 2007 (Davis 2009).2 Most of them
    were concerned solely about children’s relations to natural environment, and their
    understandings and conceptions about science-related phenomena (cf. Ärlemalm-
    Hagsér and Sandberg 2011). With so few articles published, there is no surprise that
    Davis (2009) further states that agency and sustainable issues have been generally
    neglected in early childhood environmental education and argues for the crucial
    need to ‘fill in the gap’ (Davis 2009; Elliot and Davis 2009). Nevertheless, some
    valuable research that can be related to agency, early childhood education and ESD
    are presented although the notion of agency is not always explicitly specified in the
    papers. Davis and Gibson (2006), for example, describe a number of young chil-
    dren’s sustainability mini-projects which gave the children a shared sense of owner-
    ship and increased engagement. This created a change of the whole pre-school
    context. Particularly relevant to our study is, as well, Blanchet-Cohen’s (2008)
    research on early adolescents’ environmental involvement, where six dimensions of
    environmental agency were identified as follows: connectedness, engaging with the
    environment, questioning, belief in capacity, taking a stance, strategic action. Nota-
    bly, two of these dimensions of agency have relevance to our study. Firstly, is the
    dimension that concerns children’s connectedness, which explores how they relate
    to the surroundings in an emotional, spontaneous way. Secondly, is the dimension
    that highlights children’s engaging with the environment and involves learning in3

    and about the environment. Recently, a noteworthy case study from New Zealand is

    Environmental Education Research 439

    presented where children in the kindergarten were involved in democratic and par-
    ticipatory work within the ‘enviroschool’. Children’s agency in this is proclaimed as
    taking actions and increasing engagement regarding sustainable issues. The empiri-
    cal findings are of significance because they clarify how the children, along with
    their teachers, started to listen to other perspectives as well as explore environmen-
    tal-related problems that were relevant in their own lives. The children came up
    with new solutions and ideas which they also extended and shared with their
    families (Mackey 2011).

    Several researchers have also been influenced by Bandura’s (2001) and Archer’s
    (1995, 2003) body of work on agency. Thereby, their research has been employed
    within ECE and development. The researchers have struggled with the problem
    regarding whether agency might be understood on an individual and/or a structural
    level. For instance, Archer (1995) describes the impact from the discourse as:
    ‘structural and cultural factors influence agents only through shaping the situations
    …’ (249). To summarize, ECE can be described as a diverse research field where
    learning for sustainability in terms of pluralism and agency has not yet received
    enough attention as a research topic. (cf. Duhn 2012) For these reasons, we argue
    that there is a need of further research to attentively examine how children
    constitute agency.

    Agency in education, a glimpse of research

    In science education, the research contributions on students’/children’s agency have
    mainly being framed in terms of intentions (individual aims that guides action),
    such as strategies and self-awareness (Arnold 2011; Beach 2011). Some researchers
    prefer to add the concept to the social learning process (Reunamo 2007), others
    treat it as a kind of social phenomena that belongs to the natural development of
    the child (Pence and Nsamenang 2008). Sometimes, agency is understood as pre-
    school children’s individual strategies to gain control, create influence and make
    change in their day-to-day practices (Markström and Halldén 2009). There has been
    a debate during the last few years about how to increase children’s participation
    and involvement in science education. In this context, agency has even sometimes
    been suggested to be synonymous with learning and some researchers highlight that
    students need to be engaged in ‘science both as a context and as a tool for change’
    (Barton and Tan 2010, 226). Agency has also been considered fundamental when
    developing students’ critical reflections on public issues (Eggen 2011). Basu (2008)
    adopts a critical framework arguing that science students have a great potential to
    achieve social change and to challenge historical structures of power. Goulart and
    Roth (2010) even proclaim agency as a key factor in children’s commitment in

    Framed by post-structural perspectives, agency is explored as an open-ended
    process, always incomplete and constantly negotiated. By scrutinizing available
    discourses without overshadowing the subject, for example, McKenzie (2006)
    describes learning as a process where the students become more or less ‘agent’. In
    this context, human agency is treated as a process that takes place within different
    available discourses where the subject has the ability to pick up and also to make
    resistance to or destabilize alternative discourses. Even in this study where we take
    our point of departure from a pragmatist perspective, agency is understood as some-
    thing that people achieve (do) in a situation rather than something that they possess

    440 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    (have) (Biesta and Tedder 2007). In line with this, agency is tackled not as a kind
    of ‘power’ but rather as an ‘engagement with particular temporal-relational-
    contexts- for action’ (7).

    Aim and research questions

    Agency is unquestionably valued and highly ranked when it comes to children’s
    meaning-making in relation to issues concerning the environment and sustainability.
    Nevertheless, research on agency has mainly focused on older students, either in
    psychological terms of self-directed actions, or from a sociological view as dis-
    courses. Several researchers also have pointed to the looming risk that children are
    used as a tool or as a ‘redemptive vehicle’ (cf. Dahlberg, Moss, and Pence 2007),
    more or less forced to solve future problems, which are apparently caused by the
    former generation. Therefore, we thoroughly keep in mind the importance to wel-
    come diversity and to carefully listen to children’s ideas in order to in actuality
    understand what they are exploring. We investigate in this study what happens
    when children are faced with a problem and achieve changes in the context of
    sustainable development. The study aims to both present illustrative examples and
    to outline a methodology that facilitate the analysis on how children constitute
    agency in a formal pre-school setting while working in the garden.

    Overarching questions

    How can one examine young the children’s constitution of agency in a process
    where they encounter phenomena in their outdoor environment?

    Analytical questions:

    • How do the children anticipate the process and the object of concern?
    • What choices do the children make in their course of action?
    • How are the process closed and fulfilled?

    Theoretical framework

    We approach agency, in this study, as a transactional, open and becoming process
    which takes place when children encounter the outdoor environment reciprocally
    and simultaneously. Here, agency is examined in line with Dewey’s perspective
    (1922, [1934] 1980; [1938] 1997) and operationalized as children’s anticipations
    towards common concerned problems and their course of actions, which sometimes
    ends up in fulfilment and closure. In line with this, we also want to highlight the
    valuable consequences dealing with agency, within this pragmatist perspective as an
    ongoing contingent and situated process.

    Transformation and the principle of continuity

    The theoretical framework in this study is pragmatic, which means that we try to
    avoid making universal and/or structural claims on what agency is, or who is actu-
    ally defined as carrying agency. Instead, we tried to follow Dewey’s ([1938] 1997)
    ideas on how experience transforms through peoples’ encounters with the world.

    Environmental Education Research 441

    Dewey ([1934] 1980) claims that experience is continuously interwoven in the
    process of living and that we achieve change in a series of situations (Dewey
    [1938] 1997). Every new encounter with the world and all the new situations that
    involve action and readjustments reconstitute both the people and the world. From
    this viewpoint, the notion of agency emerges in a process, which can neither be
    viewed as located in the environment nor within people (cf. Dewey [1925] 1958,
    [1938] 1997). Dewey’s notions of experience become richer and more exhaustively
    explained if we use his principle of continuity ([1938] 1997). According to this,
    ‘[…] something is carried over from the earlier to the later ones’ (44). However,
    the final question if these experiences actually has been made continuous can only
    be answered through looking at the consequences (Wickman 2006). Another way to
    describe and understand continuity is to attach a purpose to the activity (Wickman
    2006). It is worth noting that purposes can be changed, expanded and reversed
    along with the process and therefore not always should be regarded as
    predetermined or fixed (Dewey 1922).

    In his earlier work, Dewey (1929) tended to treat experience as if it contains an
    existence of independent entities and can be described in terms of interactions
    between them. Later, Dewey and Bentley (1949) avoided departure from separable
    entities (human/world, etc.). This transactional perspective allows us to instead put
    focus on the entire event or the process in which children are involved in (Lundegård
    2007; Östman and Öhman 2010). When analytical distinctions are made in the
    transactional perspective, this is made from a research purpose, rather than from
    beforehand-decided metaphysical proportions (Biesta and Burbules 2003).

    An experience

    Dewey ([1938] 1997) describes an experience as a dynamic organization that moves
    towards a close, an end. It takes time for every integral, fruitful experience to be
    completed. Growth is always involved in this intimate process of doings and under-
    going. There is doing when the participants obviously and observable bring the
    activity further. There is also an undergoing when the rhythm slows down, and the
    participants in the activity take in what has preceded. This temporary resting place
    should not be confused as passivity or indifference. Instead, undergoing ought to be
    understood as an active part where people are dealing with reconstructions.

    Subsequently, every experience of continuity can be described as a dynamic
    rhythm in three steps. First, there is a beginning, an anticipation; second, there is a
    course of action, a development built on choices. Thirdly, there is fulfilment (Dewey
    [1934] 1980). Dewey ([1934] 1980, [1938] 1997) states that an experience involves
    aesthetics. In accordance with this, to be able to empirically study an experience,
    we need to look into human verbal action and especially note where in the begin-
    ning, as anticipations, and/or in the end as fulfilment aesthetic judgments occur
    (Wickman 2006).

    Anticipation, course of action and fulfilment


    When people are engaged in, and anticipate a problem, this brings eagerness,
    energy and soul into their lives (Dewey [1938] 1997. Those moments of anticipa-
    tions are frequently related to aesthetic relations while the activities move towards

    442 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    fulfilment ([1934] 1980, 55). To be able to observe people’s anticipation within an
    activity, one has to look closely for aesthetic relations (utterances), for example,
    ‘what a great idea, let’s do it’, and register where they occur in the activity (cf.
    Jakobson and Wickman 2008; Lundegård 2008).

    Course of action

    Dewey (1922) stresses that when humans are involved in an activity they always
    have to make several choices between a range of rival and incompatible things. Our
    life, says Dewey, is an ongoing sequence of trials which is based upon what choices
    we make. The main issue in our lives is the ‘[…] one of choice, and choice is
    always a question of alternatives’ (Dewey ([1925] 1958, 437). In this process of
    selection between the alternatives that occur in the course of action, ‘[…] we have
    to make choice of what we really want, of the course of action, that is, which most
    fully releases activities’ (Dewey 1922, 193). The course of action is primary practi-
    cal and consists a wide range of unpredictable, open doings (Dewey [1934] 1980),
    where people search for a ‘way to act’, which most fully realizes further activities
    and this is not to reach the ultimate aim or the final terminus (Dewey 1922). To
    describe the course of action, we have to discern the choices that are made by the
    children in the activity.


    In Dewey’s ([1934] 1980) definition, people can be said to have had an experience
    when it, finally, runs its course through the fulfilment, that is, when we have
    succeeded and reached the purposes of an activity, for example, when a problem
    has received its solution or when we have finished a book, the event has reached
    an end, a closure, and it is felt as an accomplishment. Closely connected to the
    fulfilment are always aesthetic experiences (Jakobson and Wickman 2008). If we
    want to describe the fulfilment of the event, we have to examine how the children
    establish aesthetic relations by aesthetic utterances. This often occurs in the end of
    the temporal course of action.

    Analytical approach

    In accordance with the pragmatist perspective described above, we operationalize
    (use) the notion of agency by using three of Dewey’s concepts; anticipation, course
    of action and fulfilment to explore the ongoing process the children are involved in.
    By using a practical epistemological analysis (PEA) developed by Wickman and
    Östman (2002) and these three concepts we empirically examine agency in young
    children’s activities concerning science-related issues in a pre-school context.

    PEA is a description of how meaning is established in encounters between
    people and their environment. Here, the object of analysis is transferred from the
    perspective of separate individuals to the encounters and transactions that take place
    between them and between them and their environment, i.e. from the individuals to
    the actual process that proceeds (Wickman 2006). The methodology is developed
    from a pragmatic perspective, based on Wittgenstein’s ([1953] 1997, 1969) notion
    of language games, Dewey’s ([1938] 1997) principle of continuity and an anti-
    representational approach to language (Rorty 1991). This entails that our language

    Environmental Education Research 443

    gains meaning in its usage rather than mirroring the world. This methodology PEA
    turns out in four operational concepts; stand fast, encounter, relations and gaps and
    can be described in the following sense: while people encounters others and the
    world they are making distinctions, through language and action. Those distinctions
    open up gaps between what at the moment stands fast (not is put under question)
    and what in a given situation is discerned as new. The meaning-making process is
    then described in terms of how gaps are discerned and new relations are

    The children in this study are four to five years old, and their verbal communi-
    cation is lively and wordy. Both their verbal and non-verbal actions (cf. Klaar and
    Öhman 2012) are taken into account when we operationalize Dewey’s concepts and
    make our PEA – analysis. We are well aware of the fact that there is a fair amount
    of dialogue in young children’s communication that is difficult to capture and
    describe systematically which we might have overlooked. Therefore, to guide the
    reader through what is happening, we have tried to describe these events as fully or
    as ‘thick’ (Ponterotto 2006) as possible and capture them in an environmental
    setting description. (see the description above the Pea plants and the Bird nest)

    Ethical considerations

    To protect all participants during the recording process is of great importance when
    conducting research projects, specifically when it concerns young children. This
    study does not concern sensitive personal data but the researcher, working with
    video recordings within the pre-school context is daily confronted with several
    difficulties such as: the struggle with ethical considerations about choosing what
    sequences to record or not, how to be sensitive to children’s expressions (verbal
    and non-verbal) of whether they want to participate or not in the project. The
    parents gave written permission that their children were allowed to participate in
    the research.

    Analysis and findings

    In this section and in line with the above discussion about an experience, we have
    chosen two critical examples ‘Pea plants’ and ‘Bird nest’ which illustrates how
    agency is constituted within an activity. The first example, Pea plants, is described
    and analysed in the following four acts: (1) Discerning a problem by negative antic-
    ipations, (2) Negotiations of choices to solve a problem, (3) Negotiations of choices
    to solve the problem and turn to physical action, and finally, Improved activities
    and fulfilment. At the end of the first example of the pea plants, those relations that
    the children establish are specifically outlined. The main reason for this is to help
    for the reader cope with the analysis. Similar to the pea plants, the example of the
    Bird nest is as well analysed and described in four acts: (1) Discerning a problem
    by negative anticipations, (2) Negotiations of choices to solve a problem, (3).
    Negotiations of choices to solve the problem and turn to physical actions, and
    finally, Fulfilment. The relations that are established in this second process are inter-
    woven in the four acts and not explicitly outlined. Agency formation is explained
    and discussed through the three Deweyan concepts listed above.

    444 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    The study

    These illustrations highlight what Dewey terms as ‘an experience’ which is dis-
    cussed by three concepts: anticipation, course of action and fulfilment. The two
    examples are taken from 15-hour-long video recordings made at a medium-sized
    pre-school located in a large suburb in Sweden. The children participating in the
    study are between 4 and 5 years old. The pre-school has a pedagogical profile that
    focuses on environment and sustainable development and has among 1500 other
    Swedish schools and pre-schools been certified with a ‘Green flag’ by the Swedish
    foundation for eco-schools ( The daily work in the pre-school often
    involves outdoor activities. In these events, the teachers have a pronounced educa-
    tional desire to be good listeners. By using pedagogical documentation in the daily
    activities, they capture the children’s curiosity and interest which they use as a ped-
    agogical tool to bring the activity further. All names in the transcripts are fingered.

    The first example, ‘Pea plants’, which generates two sketches where the teacher
    is also participating and where the children are confronted with a range of choices
    is considerably more arduous than the second one. The process took almost 35
    minutes to fulfil. (Excluding the break) The second one, the ‘Bird nest’, developed
    considerably faster and without any teachers´ presence. This process where
    completed after approximately 11 minutes.

    First act. Discerning a problem by negative anticipations

    Pea plants

    In the following example, three five-year-olds, Emma, Sara and Jonas examine their
    ‘mini-plants’ in their pre-school garden. The purpose of the activity is not clearly
    announced by the teacher, but the children were supposed to make experiences
    related to sustainability issues in the garden.

    It is a lovely day with the sun’s rays on the playground where the children are playing
    and enjoying themselves. After a while Emma and Sara start to walk towards the culti-
    vated area and Jonas follows shortly after. The three children are squatting in the gar-
    den and we can see that they are discussing something. From a distance they all look
    concentrated. The teacher is just a few steps behind. She approaches the children
    slowly, fumbles with a garden glove and peeks a little curiously at the children.

    (1) Emma: But if it’s going to rain a lot … on the peas … then … [Emma puts her hand
    beside some sprouts and pats the soil a few times]

    (2) Sara: Mm … so they get bent … yes they can die when … I’ve seen it on the tele …
    that they can die …

    (3) Jonas: Yeah … I’ve seen it too [… …]
    (4) Emma: They can’t handle it … if the rain … if it’s raining hard like that, no … [… …].

    The teacher enters the discussion:

    (5) Teacher: It sounds tricky, that the peas, your plants … may be destroyed if it’s going to
    rain heavily

    (6) Emma: Mm …

    (In turn 1-2) Emma and Sara have identified a possible problem that threatens their
    pea plants. The girls express negative anticipation when they discern the problem.
    The girls state that the peas might get bent or even might die if exposed to

    Environmental Education Research 445

    excessive water. Both Sara (in turn 2) and Jonas (in turn 3) establish relations to
    what they have seen on the television about plants that can die. In this way, Sara’s
    and Jonas’s earlier experiences are transformed continuously in the present moment
    in a new, useful way. (In turn 4,) Emma gives utterance for another negative antici-
    pation by saying ‘They can’t handle it … if the rain … if it’s raining hard like that,
    no …’ (In turn 5), the teacher enters the discussion and confirms Emma’s utterance
    by underlining the problem with a negative aesthetic value, ‘it sounds tricky …’
    and then summarizes the children’s worries about the peas and the rain. Instead of
    giving new suggestions or directions, the teacher pays attention to what the children
    are engaged in and focused on. With respect and concern, she instead confirms and
    supports the children’s utterances. The children have cooperatively identified an
    important problem. (In turn 6), by the utterance ‘Mm …’ Emma confirms the rising
    problem and agrees with the teacher’s utterance. The difficulty with the plants is
    confirmed and they all stay with the trouble. The children and the teacher bring
    energy and expectations in terms of negative anticipations into the process. The gap
    that has been mutually discerned in this first act is as follows: Will the plants be
    destroyed or even die if they receive a lot of rain water? At the end of their
    conversation, the pauses become longer (see turn 4) as the children are mulling over
    their consequences. At this moment, the undergoing aspect of an experience is at a
    temporary resting place.

    Relations established

    First relation: If it is rain a lot – Then the peas get bent (negative


    Second relation: They get bent – Yes they can die (negative anticipation).
    Third relation: They can die – Seen it on the television (negative anticipation).
    Forth relation: Seen on the telly that they can die – Seen it too (negative

    Fifth relation: They can’t handle it – If it is going to rain hard (negative

    Sixth relation: May be destroyed if it going to rain heavily – Mm … (negative


    Second act. Negotiations of choices to solve a problem

    The children are silent and walk around the plants. After approximately 10 seconds
    Sara begins:

    (7) Sara: Yes … we just have to make a shelter [… …] as we did when we built the nest
    … we do the same for the peas [Sara’s voice is getting louder in the end of the

    (8) Jonas: Sara, it’s a good idea
    (9) Sara: We can take the boards … the old one’s … just lying there … [pointing at the

    (10) Teacher: What a great idea Sara … to take the boards that was left over … Jonas also

    thought that it was a good suggestion

    In the beginning of turn 7, Sara makes a choice and turns it into a proposal that
    might lead the activity further towards the purpose, namely to solve the problem
    that emerged in the discussion (in turn 1-6) concerning the vulnerable and unpro-
    tected pea plants. By suggesting that they could use a shelter, Sara establishes a
    new relation to the problem by recalling earlier nest – building experiences in the

    446 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    park and transforms them into the new, looming problem. Jonas in line 8 brings
    anticipation to Sara’s suggestion and confirms it by using the aesthetic relation ‘it’s
    a good idea’. (In turn 9) Sara affiliates and points to the present woodpile and
    reconstructs her earlier experience with the wood nest (turn 7) in a continuous
    transformation. (In turn 7-9) Sara and Jonas, so to speak, are setting the activity
    scene but the ‘course of action’ is not yet turned into a non-verbal activity. (In turn
    10) The teacher confirms Sara’s suggestion (in turn 9) by using a positive aesthetic
    relation ‘what a great idea Sara’ and continues the utterance by repeating Sara’s
    suggestion. After reiterating the statement made by Jonas (in turn 8), the teacher
    establishes a relation to his exclamation whereby it clearly states that they both
    agree that Sara came up with a great idea. In the end of the utterance, the teacher
    finally, by establishing a relation to Jonas utterance (in turn 8), states that both
    Jonas and herself are agreeing on that Sara came up with a terrific suggestion. The
    teacher herself makes a positive aesthetic relation and by that confirms that the chil-
    dren are ‘on to something’. The teacher has supported and listened to the children’s
    worries about the plants and their ideas regarding possible solutions. By using a
    positive aesthetic value (in turn 10) and consequently and continuously repeating
    the children’s utterances (turns 5, 10), the teacher helps Emma, Sara and Jonas to
    stay focused and explore the problem further. The positive relations that were estab-
    lished during this second act were associated with moments of expectations but also
    intensified the development of the process. They all stay with the trouble.

    Relations established

    First relation: Let’s make a shelter – As we did when we built the nest (negotiated
    choices). Second relation: A good idea – Make a shelter (positive anticipation).

    Third relation: Take the planks – Make a shelter (negotiated choices). Forth
    relation: Great idea – Take the planks and make a shelter



    Third act. Negotiation of choices to solve the problem and turn to physical action

    (11) Sara: But how shall we do … we’ll make a drawing, don’t you think? We usually
    make drawings first …

    (12) Jonas: Mm … it’ll be difficult I think … but let’s make it! Let’s take a sharp pencil
    and an eraser

    Sara picks up a piece of paper and a pencil and starts to draw. Emma fetches another
    pencil from the ground, hesitates and watches when Sara works. Ten seconds later,
    Emma join in and the two girls are now cooperatively working with the draft. After
    approximately 5–6 minutes they continue to speak. Jonas is still silent:

    (13) Sara: Peas need sunlight … they need light … they feel bad if it gets dark …
    (14) Emma: But there must be a covering on the top [Emma stop drawing and instead

    kicking around in the leftover boards]

    Another teacher, Karin, calls for the mid-morning fruit snack and the activity
    breaks. After approximately 20 minutes Jonas, Emma and Sara came running out of
    the entrance, towards the woodpile, nearby the garden where the plants are. They
    start to walk around and over the planks. No adults are nearby.

    Environmental Education Research 447

    In turn 1 l, Sara raises an essential question ‘But how shall we do …’. She hesi-
    tates and waits a moment. She continues herself and again uses earlier experiences
    of making drawings and continuously transforms them into the new situation. The
    relation between the discussed construction (turn 7-9) and drawings is established.
    (Jonas, in turn 12) supports Sara’s idea about the drawings, but in the beginning of
    the utterance he brings negative anticipation ‘it’ll be difficult I think …’. In the the
    same sentence, he gives a positive anticipation that reveals enthusiasm and hopeful-
    ness, ‘… but let’s make it!’ The problem with the peas and the rain has to be
    solved, and the need for a solution creates demands for activities. Before the chil-
    dren start those activities, they discern several alternatives and choices along the
    course of action (turn 11, 12, 13 and 14). Physical activities are now being released.
    Sara and Emma, well supported by Jonas, start to draw cooperatively their first
    sketch of the construction that they intend to build (Figure 1). In line with the idea
    about the ‘course of action’, referred to above, Sara introduces a new way to act
    that releases activity (making drawings) and Jonas joins in along the same ‘course
    of action’. (In turn 13 and 14) The girls are discussing two new rising parallel prob-
    lems, or in fact, it might be the primary problem that the girls extend. Sara (in turn
    13) is convinced that peas need sunlight and makes a relation between light and the
    peas and make an aesthetic relation ‘they feel bad if it gets dark …’. The underly-
    ing question might be as follows: How do we solve the problem with darkness
    inside the construction? Emma (in turn 14) does not reply to Sara’s utterance, but
    she has presumably also recognized the problem with the lack of sunlight by saying
    ‘But’ (in the beginning of turn 14). Emma additionally notices another troubling
    issue, namely that there must be a covering on the top. The underlying question
    might be as follows: How can the design be of sufficient strength if there is no
    roof? The dual problem with the construction requires stability and strength without
    excluding the sunlight.

    Figure 1. First draft that the children made. In this picture, the shelter is made of wood.

    448 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    Relations established

    First relation: We’ll make a drawing – It’ll be difficult I think (negotiated choices).
    Second relation: We’ll make a drawing – Let’s take a sharp pencil (negotiated

    Third relation: Peas need – Sunlight (negotiated choices).
    Forth relation: They (peas) feel bad – If it gets dark (negative anticipation).
    Fifth relation: There must be a covering on the top – Peas feel bad if it is dark

    (negotiated choices).

    Physical action

    Start to draw the first sketch (established choices).
    Second activity: fetching new sharper pencils and an eraser (established


    Fourth and final act. Improved activities and fulfilment

    After approximately a 20 minutes break, the children come running towards the
    woodpile, nearby the garden, where the plants are. Emma and Sara come first and
    Jonas joins in a little later.

    (15) Sara: [very quiet] I really don’t know how to do this … inside the shed … it’s going
    to be very dark and the plants aren’t used to that … if we use boards over …

    Sara kicks the wooden boards that are near the old woodpile.

    (16) Sara: We have to use something else … glass or something like that …

    Figure 2. Improved sketch that the children have made. Notice all the holes in the covering
    that are drawn.

    Environmental Education Research 449

    Both of the children fall silent. They walk around for a while.

    (17) Emma: How about a net?
    (18) Sara: Yes, [loud!] yes … let’s start!

    Sara runs away and gets a new pen and paper and start drawing together with
    Emma, a new sketch. At this point Jonas enters.

    (19) Jonas: What are you doing?
    (20) Emma: We are drawing and then we will build a shed and we are using a net on the

    top! … Peas can live a very, very long time … we’ll help them so it will be good.
    You can join us, if you want

    (21) Sara: This is really nice; we did it [Sara smiles]!

    Sara smiles and reaches for Emma’s hand. They hold hands and no one speak.
    In the dialogue, Sara (in turn 15) picks up the old gap (from turn 13) that still

    lingers. This utterance clearly displays that she is obviously worried about the com-
    fort of the peas. The children’s first sketch shows that the construction will not sat-
    isfactory let the light in. It is too dark and the plants are not used to be out of light.
    Sara (in turn 16) continues, even though she hesitates, and again discerns a new
    alternative. Should they use glass instead of boards on the top? Emma joins in and
    makes another relation and forefronts a new alternative, a solution to the problem
    by suggesting a net on the top (in turn 17). Sara immediately responds loudly (in
    turn 18) with a ‘yes, yes … let’s start’ and brings eagerness and enthusiasm into
    the situation. The process along the ‘course of action’ is now being intensified and
    accelerates. Physical activities are released and Sara runs off and fetches a new
    paper and a pencil. The two girls start to cooperatively draw a new, more workable
    drawing in line with their mission to save the pea plants (Figure 2). (In turn 19)
    Jonas asks what the girls are doing and (in turn 20) Emma recapitulates and sum-
    marizes the process along the ‘course of action’ and makes it explicit continuous.
    Further, she adds in the end of the utterance that the peas can now live a long time
    and uses an ethical relation ‘we’ll help them so it will be good’. Sara makes a last
    positive aesthetic relation (in turn 21) ‘This is really nice, we did it!’ She is appar-
    ently happy. The children have solved their own concerned problem. The agency
    process is now reaching fulfilment and consummation and can be described as hav-
    ing ‘come to a close’. Dewey specifically remarks that a completion, a similar way
    to describe consummation, by no means is something that is disconnected or
    detached from life. Instead, completion must be understood as a consummation of a
    movement and therefore should not be confused with the idea of a ‘final end’. All
    the objects (pea plants, boards, shed, drawing tools, woodpile, net etc.) and subjects
    (the children and the teacher) are involved and connected within the transactional,
    open-ended process. The problem that the children choose to care about was solely
    discerned and solved by themselves.

    Relations established

    First relation: Plants aren’t used to be in the dark- we use planks over (negotiated

    Second relation: To use glass over the construction – Instead of boards
    (negotiated choices).

    450 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    Third relation: We can use a net over the construction – Refers to instead of
    glass and boards (negotiated choices).

    Forth relation: Fetching new, more suitable drawing-tools – Refers to making
    the new sketch (established choices).

    Fifth relation: Then we will build a shed – When the sketch is finished (negoti-
    ated choices).

    In a similar way as the protection of the pea plants was explored by these children,
    a few days later a bird nest became the centre of attention for some other children.

    Bird nest

    In this second example, described below, three pre-school children, two 5-year-olds,
    Johan and Berit, and Ella, four to five years old, are playing in the pre-school

    First act. Discerning a problem by negative anticipations

    Johan are in the garden, busy filling the children’s watering cans and soon the water
    hose is on. It is a warm day and the plants are wilting. Some children creep
    into the bushes, which face the parking lot, away from the sun. There is some
    construction work near the pre-school, where noise levels are high.

    (1) Johan: This is really hard … it’s so noisy … oooh!
    (2) Berit: What? What do you mean?
    (3) Johan: Oh! It’s horrible … are they never done?
    (4) Berit: Nooo! They are always building something or other

    Both children creep out of the bushes and watch the lorries and the excavator on
    the other side of hedge. The workers drill a hole in the tarmac and the sound is
    almost deafening.

    (5) Berit: Our birds’ can’t stay here … They [pointing at the workers] are disturbing too

    The children creep back into the bushes and sit tightly next to each other. They are
    quiet for a while. Berit picks up a little chestnut flower which she places in the
    hideout. There are some stones and a little grass which mainly consists of both dry
    and fresh grass.

    (6) Berit: This is not good … the birds don´t want to be here … the baby birds … they …
    they can’t rest

    (7) Johan: Noo … the nest … nobody wants to be in it
    (8) Berit: No [whisperingly]

    John and Berit discuss the general problem with the irritating noise from the park-
    ing lot. Will the workers never finish? Almost immediately after the children have
    crept out of the nest, they start to watch the workers from a short distance. In the
    bushes, where the children are at the moment, there is the bird nest that they built
    in their previous play. The expectations in this play were that the birds also would
    inhabit this nest and have their ‘babies’. The children argue that the noise is coming
    from the work in the immediate vicinity prevents from this happening. Berit extends

    Environmental Education Research 451

    the original problem and makes a new relation between the noise and the ‘baby
    birds’. The problem expands and become larger. Jonas supports Berit’s utterance
    and makes another relation by expressing a more general and concluding statement;
    ‘nobody wants to be in it’ and Berit confirms Jonas utterance with a short ‘no’. In
    this first act when the children discern the problem, they bring worrying aspects
    and negative anticipations into the cooperatively identified problem (turn 5-8). The
    transaction between the noise from the workers, the children and their concern for
    the nest has just started. Now in the beginning of the ‘course of action’, the
    children’s own problem is anticipated and confirmed. Yet, there are no physical
    activities released in the event. Berit and Johan are occupied with the fact that there
    really is a threatening problem; the birds have flown away and left the nest because
    of all the noises.

    Second act. Negotiation of choices to solve the problem

    Long pause [20 seconds]. Johan and Berit stroke the grass a little. A long pause
    again. [15 seconds] Ella comes running. She stops and peeks into the hiding place.

    (9) Ella: Ooh … It’s lovely here … can I join in?
    (10) Johan: Mmm
    (11) Berit: This isn’t good … the birds won’t come here … they are building to Much …

    and the noise … baby birds … they can’t be here
    (12) Ella: No … no … we should tell them [Ella points at the workers] … they are

    (13) Ella again: We can do that [… …]
    (14) Johan: No … we can’t … Annelie [a teacher] said that they must … must finish the

    parking lot … it has to be … bikes must have a place also [… …]
    (15) Ella: Baby birds don’t fit in here …
    (16) Johan: No …

    Ella is entering the process with a positive aesthetic relation ‘Ooh … It’s lovely
    here … can I join in?’ and she is now invited to participate. Berit reiterates and
    summarizes thoroughly the problem that the children have discovered and the whole
    trouble becomes visible to Ella. Ella introduces her first discerned choice (alterna-
    tive), turned into a suggestion along the course of action. She argues that they (the
    children) ought to raise their voices and tell the workers to stop making noise.
    Johan recalls his earlier experiences of a discussion with the teacher about why the
    workers have to finish and transforms the information into the new situation. Ella’s
    suggestion is no longer an alternative and the gap still lingers. The process is now
    slowing down. Ella makes a relation to the noise problem and the baby birds, just
    as Berit did before (5, 6, and 11) and in this manner establishes continuity. The
    underlying question might be as follows: But how shall we solve the problem with
    noise and the flown away birds? Although they have not come up with a satisfac-
    tory and workable solution, the three children continuously stay with the trouble.

    Third act. Negotiation of choices to solve the problem and turn to physical

    Silence [10 seconds pause]. Ella creeps in under the bushes and sits besides Johan
    and Berit. Now all sit tightly together.

    452 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    (17) Johan: I’m thirsty …
    (18) Ella: We can move the nest … perhaps … somewhere … where it’s quiet
    (19) Berit: Mm … might work … it will be hard … yes
    (20) Johan: We’ll take the nest now …

    Johan and Ella pick up their grass-pile (the nest) and go to the other side of the
    playground. They search for a better place between the bushes behind the garden
    and find one where they carefully put down the nest. Berit follows shortly after
    with the pebbles and the chestnut twigs.

    Although Ella is hesitant, she announces a second alterative, ‘… where it’s quiet
    …’ Berit, cautiously supports Ella’s idea adding that there will probably be some
    difficulties. However, she ends the utterance with a short positive statement, ‘…
    yes’. Johan calls for physical actions and suggests that they move the nest immedi-
    ately. The children take action and jointly move the nest to a new, quiet place. Berit
    comes after with the pebbles and the chestnut twigs.

    Fourth and final act. Fulfilment

    (21) Ella: What do you think [very quiet]?
    (22) Berit: This is okay … I guess
    (23) Johan: This is good … the birds will come back again … if they only are able to find

    (24) Ella: They will do
    (25) Johan : Mm … I hope so …
    (26) Berit: It’s good now

    Johan runs off to the water tap to get a drink of water. The girls inspect the new
    hide out in silence.

    Ella asks tentatively as she breaks the silence if they think the solution is work-
    able. Berit supports Emma’s utterance and establishes a positive relation to her
    question, but she hesitates and adds, ‘I guess’, which might be understood as the
    solution could not be fully accepted. Johan now returned and seemed convinced by
    the new suggestion, states that they have succeeded with their mission. However,
    he portrays some worries that it might involve certain difficulties. Nevertheless, Ella
    is fully convinced. Her fulfilment underlines that the birds will finally find the
    place. Johan still worryingly states ‘… I hope so …’ but Berit insists and fulfils the
    process with a positive aesthetic relation ‘It’s good now’. The three children have
    cooperatively solved the problem, and the process has finally reached an
    accomplishment and a closure.

    Conclusion of examples 1 and 2

    The children in the first example anticipate a problem concerning eventual heavy
    rainfall that most probably will damage their pea plants. They draw two sketches
    which they later improve considerably. This process entails that the children make
    several choices and in relation to a number of problems that emerge along the
    course of action. This process of finding a suitable solution for protecting growing
    peas from possible downpour can be characterized as a contingent, explorative and
    open. The teacher’s assistance is characterized by her reiteration of the children’s
    utterances as well as using positive value judgements. In this manner, the children’s

    Environmental Education Research 453

    anticipations and expectations are reinforced and supported. The second example
    portrays a situation where the children anticipate and bring energy into a problem
    concerning birds and a disturbing working-place. Their problems escalate and deep-
    ens as they are confronted with a conflict of interest between, on one hand, that
    they are receiving new bicycle stands, and on the other hand, that the noise scares
    away the birds. They solve the problem by removing the nest to a quieter and more
    suitable place and in that way fulfil the event. In conclusion, this process can too be
    characterized as a contingent, explorative and open.


    Children’s agency is frequently claimed as a powerful aspect in ECEfS, ESD and in
    the field of Science Education (cf. Davis 2009; Elliot and Davis 2009; Hägglund
    and Pramling Samuelsson 2009; Siraj-Blatchford 2009; Eggen 2011). It has some-
    times been suggested that the field of ESD requires a new paradigm, a paradigm
    that put more emphasis on young children’s agency and plurality and goes beyond
    present limitations where also deliberative communication, human conflicts of inter-
    ests, dilemmas and room for dissensus are recognized (Lundegård and Wickman
    2007; Wals 2007; Læssø 2010). In this framework, concepts such as empowerment
    (Dillon 2012) and action competence (Chawla and Cushing 2007; Mogenen and
    Schnack 2010) have been used. Hopefully in this manner, children’s participation
    and contributions will also lead to positive changes that contribute to sustainability.

    The notion of agency has certainly had many different interpretations in earlier
    research. Some of them are made from perspectives closely linked to individual
    development while other studies are made from critical and/or discursive perspec-
    tives. However, the investigations have not always been empirically anchored. Stud-
    ies within ECE that examine young children’s participation and agency in these
    particular fields have been relative sparse. Those vital contributions that are accessi-
    ble are foremost based on secondary reports, interviews or framed by ethnographi-
    cal methods (cf. Davis and Gibson 2006; Blanchet-Cohen 2008; Mackey 2012). An
    essential contribution has been Mackey’s participatory research that has shown that
    pre-school children are most capable of taking actions to reduce the impact of the
    environment which has been observed from a broader perspective.

    The purpose in this study has been to further investigate a methodology to
    explore children’s abilities to be influential agents that can accomplish change and
    we take our point of departure from a pragmatist perspective. Agency in this case is
    framed as something that people achieve (do) in a situation rather than something
    that they possess (have) (Biesta and Tedder 2007). Our study is line with Biesta
    and Tedder’s (2007) ideas on agency regarded as engagement within a particular
    ‘temporal-relational-contexts-for action’. In our findings, the children established a
    myriad of temporal relations during the processes. They also managed to accom-
    plish improvements for the different life forms they were exploring.

    This study where the children display care and anticipation towards living
    organisms is also in line with Blanchet-Cohen’s (2008) assumptions that children’s
    agency involves a consciously decision making for the environment.

    Our primary interest in this study has not been to examine whether the circum-
    stances surrounding the living organisms have been improved or not. Neither were
    we interested in the flux of the different levels of truths in children’s conceptual
    thinking nor if they are ‘right or wrong’ or in the guidance from the teacher. Thus,

    454 C. Caiman and I. Lundegård

    we believe it is irrelevant to investigate the actual circumstances concerning weather
    conditions, the relocation of the bird nest etc. Instead, the focus lies in the explora-
    tion of agency, how children act as agents and how care and anticipation emerges
    in various and diverse ways along the transactional process. This could also be
    described as an event where both the objects in the environment and the subjects
    change and become in some way different than they were before (cf. Dewey [1938]
    1997; Biesta and Burbules 2003; Lundegård and Wickman 2012). In this manner,
    an experience has been developed and lived through (Dewey [1938] 1997). The tea-
    cher’s participation in this event is characterized by that she reiterates the children’s
    utterances and also uses positive aesthetic value judgements. The children’s antici-
    pations, cares and concerns are supported by the teacher in this way. Furthermore,
    what is striking in the two examples is that the children achieve agency practically
    all by themselves, without a teacher’s initial directions and questions.

    In the second example, where no teachers were present the dilemma that
    emerges between the workers, birds and the children is an authentic example of
    what a conflict of interest related to sustainable issues actually can look like when
    it is discerned by pre-school children. The anticipations, cares and concerns, which
    the children bring to the activities, are not always expressed as positive statements
    but occasionally in terms of concerns and worries. In our study, we have found that
    children cooperatively discern and negotiate different choices which they continu-
    ously turn into new verbal and physical activities. In both examples, the events are
    closed by accomplishment and fulfilment. In line with Dahlberg’s (2003) and Dahl-
    berg’s and Moss’s (2005) writings on the crucial value of listening, we have
    focused on the children’s anticipations and their suggestions all along their course
    of action. Here, we would like to refer to the first occasion with the pea plants,
    where the teacher cautiously enters the event with a listening approach. Systemati-
    cally she underlines the children’s utterances and shows that the children’s interests
    are taken seriously and with respect. They all managed to stay with the trouble and
    the teacher did not stress them through this event by giving them new directions or
    suggestions, which gave the children control of the entire process.

    This study has shown how to implement a pragmatist perspective and Dewey’s
    account of an experience in order to investigate young children’s agency in outdoor
    activities in their pre-school surroundings. By receptiveness and attentiveness
    towards the children’s anticipations, the choices they live through and the aesthetic
    value judgements they bestow upon, it became possible for us to show how agency
    was constituted. In this manner, we have demonstrated how such a process also has
    parallels to what is attained within ESD in terms of empowerment, action compe-
    tence. Finally, in the light of our study, we want to recall Dewey’s discussion about
    the vital force in having an experience. This requires highlighting the value of giving
    children multiple opportunities to experience situations where they are in the power
    of the entire process. The achievement of ‘agency for change’ is something that chil-
    dren explore and constitute together in close relation to the environment. This
    dynamic movement is also an experience, which teachers and researchers if they
    practice the ‘ethics of an encounter’ (Dahlberg 2003) carefully might be invited to.

    1. From our point of view pluralism should not be confused with McKenzie (2009) argumen-

    tation about the dilemma by simply reading text differently, ending up with nothing (213).

    Environmental Education Research 455

    2. Fewer than 5% published articles (Davis 2009).
    3. Cf. Blanchet-Cohen’s (2008) ideas concerning in and about the environment with Biesta

    and Tedder’s (2007) argumentation built upon two different epistemological perspectives
    and there consequences on in or of the environment.

    Notes on contributors
    Cecilia Caiman is a PhD student in science education at the Department of Mathematics and
    Science Education, Stockholm University. Her research interest is pre-school children’s
    encounters with science and children’s meaning-making processes in sustainable
    development. She educates teachers and teacher students in science education and education
    for sustainable development.

    Iann Lundegård is a senior lecturer in science education at the Department of Mathematics
    and Science Education, Stockholm University, and a member of the Swedish Institute for
    Research in Education and Sustainable Development (IRESD). His research interest is
    students’ deliberations and meaning-making on sustainable development. He educates
    teachers and teacher students in science education and education for sustainable
    development and has written several text books in the field of environmental education.

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    Project-Based Community Language Learning: Three Narratives
    of Multilingual Story-telling in Early Childhood Education

    Heather Lotherington, Michelle Holland, Shiva Sotoudeh, Mike Zentena

    The Canadian Modern Language Review / La revue canadienne des langues
    vivantes, Volume 65, Number 1, September/septembre 2008, pp. 125-145

    Published by University of Toronto Press

    For additional information about this article

    [ Access provided at 11 Aug 2022 06:48 GMT from The University of British Columbia Library ]


    Project-Based Community Language
    Learning: Three Narratives of
    Multilingual Story-telling in Early
    Childhood Education

    Heather Lotherington
    Michelle Holland
    Shiva Sotoudeh
    Mike Zentena

    Abstract: At Joyce Public School (JPS) in the Greater Toronto Area,
    we are engaged in ongoing collaborative action research to develop
    pedagogical approaches to emergent literacies that engage multilingual,
    multicultural, and multimodal perspectives in complex interplay. Our
    research is grounded in the challenges children experience in acquiring
    literacy across home, school, community, and societal contexts in a culturally
    and linguistically diverse urban setting, given limited curricular opportunities
    for involving multiple languages in literacy education. Our research involves
    collaboratively designed classroom-based narrative projects that productively
    entwine multilingualism, English language discovery, and digital technologies
    in elementary literacy instruction. This article provides first-person perspec-
    tives on and an analytical discussion of the emerging pedagogies of three
    primary-grade teachers involved in our collaborative multiliteracies research
    who successfully engage multilingualism in English language and literacy

    Keywords: multiliteracies, early childhood education, multilingual
    education, narratives, elementary education

    Résumé : À l’école publique Joyce, dans la région métropolitaine de
    Toronto, nous menons actuellement une recherche-action collaborative visant
    le développement d’approches pédagogiques pour les littératies émergentes
    qui mettent en jeu des perspectives multilingues, multiculturelles et multi-
    modales dans des interactions complexes. Notre recherche est fondée sur les
    défis que pose pour les enfants l’acquisition de la littératie dans le contexte
    familial, scolaire, communautaire et sociétal, lorsque cette acquisition doit se
    faire dans un cadre urbain très varié sur les plans culturel et linguistique, et

    � 2008 The Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes,
    65, 1 (September/septembre), 125–145


    compte tenu du peu d’opportunités que présente le curriculum pour inclure
    multiples langues dans l’enseignement de la littératie. Notre recherche porte
    sur des projets de rédaction collaboratifs en salle de classe qui ont allié, de
    manière très productive, le plurilinguisme, la découverte de la langue anglaise
    et les technologies de l’information, dans l’enseignement de la littératie au
    niveau primaire. Cet article présente un récit à la première personne et une
    analyse des pédagogies émergentes de trois enseignants d’école élémentaire,
    dans notre recherche collaborative sur les multilittératies, qui ont réussi à
    intégrer le plurilinguisme à l’enseignement de la langue anglaise et de la

    Mots clés : multilittératies, éducation de la petite enfance, éducation
    plurilingue, récits, éducation primaire

    When children arrive at Joyce Public School (JPS) in northwest Toronto,
    they bring with them an array of language and cultural under-
    standings that span the globe. Upon entry to formal education,
    however, the language choices afforded these children are reduced to
    (1) English, the language of power and authority in Toronto, and of
    texts and tests and teachers’ expectations; (2) French, a second official
    language signifying national identity and offering enriched employ-
    ment opportunities; and (3) selected ‘international’ languages taught as
    continuing education in after-school programs. International language
    teachers in Ontario serve multilevel, multi-age groups, normally
    outside of regular school hours, and so are not able to link their
    lessons to the general curriculum or to ongoing work in the classroom.

    At JPS, two international languages are taught in after-school
    classes: Cantonese and Vietnamese. French is taught during school
    hours. The default language of explanation in second and interna-
    tional language classes is English, which is the predominant language
    of education during the day and on the playground. However, neither
    English nor French is the language of pre-school socialization of the
    majority of children in Michelle Holland’s junior/senior kindergarten
    class, Mike Zentena’s junior/senior kindergarten class, or Shiva
    Sotoudeh’s Grade 1 class. These classes, like most in the Greater
    Toronto Area (GTA), are linguistically heterogeneous.

    Our research collective at JPS includes both university researchers
    and teachers working together to build multiliteracies pedagogies in
    elementary literacy education. This pedagogical exploration is inspired
    by the New London Group’s social critique of language and literacy
    education, subsumed under the rubric ‘multiliteracies’ (NLG, 1996).
    The methodology we use is coordinated action research: teachers con-
    sult theory and collaborate with researchers to explore, develop, pilot,

    126 Lotherington et al.

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    65, 1 (September/septembre), 125–145

    refine, and share pedagogies that introduce young learners to literacy –
    which, in our understanding, includes interpreting, contributing to,
    and engaging in our multimodally encoded world – in a way that
    welcomes multiple languages and contemporary digital technologies
    (Lotherington, 2007, 2008). The particular pedagogical and curricular
    goals that engage participating teachers are welcomed into the creative
    and developmental process of the

    multiliteracies project.

    This article provides narrative accounts by three teachers (Shiva,
    Michelle, and Mike) of their development of multilingual stories with
    young children who are at varying stages of acquiring English
    language and literacy. Each teacher describes the practices and
    technologies she or he has used in class projects to incorporate
    multilingualism into literacy teaching. The teacher narratives are
    followed by interpretive comments by the researcher (Heather
    Lotherington) and a theoretical discussion.

    Toward a project-based model of language and literacy

    This is a global environment which is deeply multilingual, deeply about

    crossing discourses, deeply about dealing with difference. All that is

    happening in this third space is about working in a way where you can

    communicate across language, cultural, human differences. Arguably

    schools weren’t very well engaged with the world ever, but this ups

    the ante in terms of the kinds of engagement and the kinds of human

    beings, sensibilities and dispositions you have to build in a classroom.

    (Cope, Kalantzis, & Lankshear, 2005, p. 202)

    Our multiliteracies research is complex and multifaceted. A major aim
    is to develop a ‘third space’ (Bhabha, 1994) for multilingual literacies
    in a school system that, at present, does not accommodate students’
    prior language learning in literacy education.

    According to principles of ‘additive bilingualism’ (Lambert, 1974),
    and ‘additive multilingualism’ (Cenoz & Genesee, 1998), second and
    additional languages can be added to a child’s linguistic repertoire
    when these languages are valued by school and society. As Cummins
    has shown (1979, 1981, 1991, 2000), children learn a second language
    (L2) more effectively in situations where their first language (L1) is
    supported. For minority-language children in heterogeneous class-
    rooms in Ontario, however, this support is neither recognized nor
    realized in the public school curriculum, where only English and
    French are timetabled.1

    Project-Based Community Language Learning 127

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    Cummins’ work champions the micro- and macro-social benefits
    of maintaining familial bilingualism in addition to its cognitive
    benefits: ‘not only does maintenance of L1 help students to commu-
    nicate with parents and grandparents in their families, and increase
    the collective competence of the entire society, it enhances the
    intellectual and academic resources of individual bilingual students’
    (2000, p. 38). As Wong Fillmore (1991, 2000) illustrates, the social
    price of not maintaining children’s home languages can result in
    a tragic situation of L2 gain at school translating into L1 loss in
    the home.

    Scholars in countries around the globe have advocated the
    supportive involvement of minority languages in education (Clyne,
    Isaakidis, Liem, & Rossi Hunt, 2004; Gutiérrez, 2001; Martin-Jones &
    Saxena, 2003; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2002). In the context of the GTA,
    numerous researchers have described ways of bringing children’s
    home languages into the classroom for productive literacy learning
    (Coelho, 2004; Cummins, 2006; Cummins et al., 2005; Goldstein, 1997,
    2003; Lotherington, 2007, 2008; Schecter & Cummins, 2003; Stagg
    Peterson & Heywood, 2007). These projects provide models of
    possibility for incorporating minority languages in the culturally
    diverse classroom.

    No classroom teacher, no matter how polyglot, could be expected to
    converse in every child’s language in the typically linguistically
    heterogeneous classes of the GTA. Therefore, our research proposes a
    project-based model to provide access to multilingual exposure and
    learning. This model acknowledges and works with the linguistic
    heterogeneity of the urban classroom, where the inclusion of a
    third language in teaching would not adequately respond to all
    students’ needs.

    Our understanding is that children in contemporary urban societies
    bring to school multilingual backgrounds that are not only important
    to their learning and sociocultural identity but also represent valuable
    resources in our globalized economy. At present, these rich language
    resources are not well respected in the curriculum. Rather than being
    connected to language and literacy learning in the majority languages
    in the classroom, children’s multilingual backgrounds are left to
    wither, submerged by the economic and political needs for English
    and French. Our research project strives to include the linguistic and
    cultural capital of the entire school community in curricular learning
    and to connect children’s varied language socialization as a facilitating
    and humanizing resource. In a heterogeneous classroom, this is a
    challenging aim.

    128 Lotherington et al.

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    Narrative learning

    Narrative comprehension is a general feature of young children’s thinking

    that is critical for cognitive development and early literacy. (Paris & Paris,

    2007, p. 34)

    The importance of narrative learning as a scaffolding experience
    in early childhood education (ECE) is undisputed. Paris and Paris
    (2007) explain that narrative learning is an embedded, authentic,
    and consequential experience in young children’s cognitive, social,
    and linguistic development. Bruner (2004) states that the stories
    children learn to tell scaffold perceptual experience and organize

    JPS principal, Cheryl Paige, is involved integrally as a collaborator
    in the research grant. Her particular stake in this project has funda-
    mentally shaped one of the cornerstones of our research: teachers’
    multiliteracies action research projects are based on narrative learning,
    which Cortazzi and Jin (2007) define as ‘learning from, about and
    through stories, and learning through reflecting on the experience of
    narrating and the narrating of experience’ (p. 645). Our project uses
    traditional children’s literature as a fulcrum for children’s story
    retellings involving community language resources, pop-culture
    influences, and digital technologies. Below, three teachers describe
    the ways in which they have introduced community languages into
    their class narrative projects.

    Shiva’s narrative: The Three Little Pigs (Grade 1)

    I chose The Three Little Pigs for my Grade 1 class because it ties in very
    well with curricular aims, seamlessly linking art, math, language,

    Project-Based Community Language Learning 129

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    social studies, science, and technology. Some of the children did not
    know the story, as it was not usually told in their cultures. We had
    about 10 students in Grade 1 who were designated English as a second
    language (ESL), out of a class of 23; several of them were really at the
    kindergarten level.

    I promote children’s home languages in my classroom every day.
    For example, when I take attendance, I ask them to say ‘hello’ in their
    home language instead of saying ‘present’ or ‘here’ in English, so we
    are learning the different languages we speak in our class and the
    students are aware that we are living in a multicultural and
    multilingual society. We now have 10 different languages that we
    can say ‘hello’ and count in.

    S���� had told us in class, ‘I am from Africa and my language is
    Yoruba.’ When I asked if she knew how to tell us the story of The Three
    Little Pigs in her language, she said, ‘I’m going to get help from my
    mother.’ Her mother was happy to become involved with the children
    in school life. This was a wonderful connection because, as an
    educated parent, she wanted to know more about education here in

    Some of the children worked from their home language to English.
    Parents were highly supportive: a boy used Japanese, helped by his
    mother; a girl began in Cantonese and eventually learned to tell the
    story in English. She recited the whole story in Cantonese for us in the
    classroom. I did a Farsi version. I even thought about involving
    the high school students I teach in international language classes to do
    the translation as an exercise.

    We have retold the story in several different ways over a couple of
    years now. The story becomes the theme tying together learning across
    the curriculum. It also gives us a chance to talk about language and
    cultural differences. For instance, the children always think the three
    little pigs are boys, because they are strong and daring. So we made
    a fourth little pig who was their little sister, and she was strong and
    gave them guidance, and this was amazing in my class because in
    some of their cultures, girls are not seen as strong. So The Three Little
    Pigs also gave us the chance to talk about sexism and to look at

    The first year, we built the pigs’ three houses with different
    materials, using straw, popsicle sticks and Lego blocks. We talked
    about characters (see Figure 1a) and settings, and the children learned
    how to structure a story. I made a storyboard of The Three Little Pigs
    that they could follow. We brainstormed different settings and
    characters, and I talked about adjectives with them. The children

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    chose their own characters and wrote the story modelled after the
    original, building the story sequences and then storyboarding their
    own versions using the template.

    This year we tried an iMovie.2 The children re-created their story in
    plasticine in boxes divided into sequences of action, following the
    storyboard template (see Figure 1b). I photographed each segment and
    programmed the photo sequences in iMovie. Then, to narrate their
    movie versions, the children read their stories in sequence to the
    pictures they had created. We had some difficulties synchronizing
    multiple languages with the pictures,3 but we are working on this for
    the future.

    Like all teachers, I am always looking for what motivates my
    students. We have used different methods to produce a finished story,
    including Kid Pix4 and Hyperstudio;5 we also made a video with a
    soundtrack in the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) lab, and
    an iMovie claymation. The children loved the different language
    versions and the different cultural versions that they all created. They
    were very motivated, always asking me, ‘When are we going to work
    on our stories?’

    I think one of the beauties of this project is that we can bring
    everybody together in this community – students, parents, and

    (A) Learning characterization (B) Claymation storyboard

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    teachers – when the children can bring in their cultures. The project is
    about connection; through this work children are connecting to their
    families, culture, prior knowledge, personal experiences, and life back
    home. The project benefits parents, too, because they have lots of
    knowledge but they don’t know how to mobilize it in this society.
    Inviting their home culture and language into the classroom and
    involving them in this story-writing project makes parents feel good
    about themselves.

    Heather’s interpretation: Linking home and school

    Shiva uses many identity-affirming practices in her classroom,
    such as asking the children to answer to roll call in their home
    languages and inviting parents to share their home-language versions
    of children’s stories during the story-construction process (see
    Cummins, 2006). These actions foster respect for and exposure to

    Like most ECE teachers, Shiva uses multimodal expression
    imaginatively, which enhances story comprehension (Cortazzi & Jin,
    2007). Her Three Little Pigs narrative projects incorporate a plethora of
    multimodal story-telling devices, within which home language use is
    one of many ways of telling a story. Shiva’s incorporation of
    multilingualism and cultural learning (e.g., creating a little sister pig
    to counter the sexism of characterizing the three little pigs as male) is
    threaded into the fabric of the project, as are science and art goals. Her
    approach is holistic.

    The children produced claymation versions of their person-
    alized stories, using a combination of digital photography and
    iMovie software, yielding a sophisticated, contemporary product.
    The creation of personalized multilingual versions met a stumbling
    block at the programming stage, where the skills needed to syn-
    chronize multilingual retellings with the digital storyboard required
    literacy and programming skills beyond those of children in
    Grade 1, just learning to read in any language, and multilingual
    competencies beyond the ken of any individual teacher. However,
    this problem provided the research collective with a trouble-
    shooting goal that generated beneficial exploration, and in
    Michelle’s class, a method of synchronizing different voices to
    frame changes in the storyboard was worked out as an instructive

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    Michelle’s narrative: The Lion and the Mouse (kindergarten)

    At JPS, the majority of children who come into kindergarten do not
    speak English. During my first year of participation in this project, I
    was fascinated by the number of different languages the children
    spoke. Some of these languages I had never heard of. I compiled a list
    of home languages, other than English, that totalled 16, none of which
    were French, Italian, or German, the second and international
    languages usually taught in Toronto.

    I chose The Lion and the Mouse, an Aesop fable, as our scaffolding
    narrative. The story was short, accommodating the limited attention
    spans of four- and five-year-olds, and several versions were available.
    Importantly, this fable has an easily identifiable beginning, middle,
    and end, and it has only three characters. The students were able to
    understand the central conflict in the story, and they liked the happy

    The goal in kindergarten is to teach the students to tell a story. The
    children had to become familiar with the story and then embed
    themselves in it. I read several different versions of the fable to them,
    comparing similarities and differences. The children were encouraged
    to chime in when they recognized parts of the story (e.g., making the
    lion’s big roar).

    Students then performed the parts of the lion, the mouse, and the
    hunter with the big net for the class. A dramatic play centre was set up
    so that they could act out the story during activity periods. The
    children often became discouraged when they couldn’t remember the
    words used in the text of the fable, and it was difficult to convince
    them that it was fine to use their own words to tell the story. We made
    little stick puppets of the characters so that the children could dialogue

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    the story between the lion and the mouse more easily, since their focus
    was on the puppets in their hands rather than on the text of the story.
    As they became more familiar with the story, many were able to do
    very simple retellings with their puppets, using their own words
    supplemented by vocabulary learned from the story.

    We then moved on to shared writing. The class was divided into
    small teacher-determined mixed groups, each of which included both
    junior and senior kindergarten students and children with varying
    levels of English. The groups worked together to choose characters
    that would be used in their story; most groups chose characters of
    opposite sizes, as in the original story. Once the characters were
    chosen, the students were taken out of the classroom, one group at a
    time, to create their shared stories with me. It was wonderful to see
    how eager they were to be the story-tellers. Taking turns, the students
    in each group began to weave tales about the characters that they had
    chosen, as I wrote down their ideas. With small groups of four to five,
    each student felt that he or she was an important contributing
    member, even though some contributions were very limited. In order
    to keep the students on track, I provided simple prompts (e.g., ‘What
    happened next? What did the character do next?’), which allowed
    them to work their way through the story. Each group was eager to
    share their finished story with the class.

    Students created their stories in Kid Pix, which met curriculum
    expectations for information and communications technology (ICT)
    while facilitating a beautifully artistic presentation of their retold
    stories. For several months the students explored the tools of Kid Pix,
    working in pairs at the computers, one providing the other with the
    expertise and advice needed to create their pictures and to solve any
    problems they encountered.

    Each story had four pictures: a title page, which included the story
    title, the names of the authors and illustrators, and a picture of the
    characters from their story, and three pages with images representing
    the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Each group’s series of four
    pictures was published using either a Kid Pix slide show, with audio
    attachments of the students telling their story, or a PowerPoint slide
    show with accompanying text boxes. I typed in the text from my notes
    of their shared writing.

    The students were extremely proud of their accomplishments. We
    asked the educational assistants (EAs) in the classroom (each of whom
    spoke a second language) and parents who spoke languages other
    than English to help us translate the children’s The Lion and the Mouse
    stories. In all, three different languages were used in telling the

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    stories that the students created: Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Russian
    (see Figure 2 for a page in Tagalog). These translations gave the
    contributors a sense of pride and emphasized the value of the
    languages spoken in our community.

    To celebrate the accomplishments of the students and the culmi-
    nation of the project for the year, parents were shown the students’
    slide-show stories at the school’s kindergarten graduation ceremony.

    Heather’s interpretation: Learning language awareness and

    Michelle provides collaborative support for children in her class who
    are just developing oral as well as literate English competencies by
    scaffolding their story-telling in mixed-ability groups. She enhances
    opportunities for children’s participation in story-telling by involving
    onomatopoeic sounds that are independent of vocabulary demands
    (e.g., the lion roaring). Giving children the freedom to create their own
    characters renders the story relevant to their lives and reinforces
    connections for language learning (Cortazzi & Jin, 2007).

    Michelle engages community support, including class EAs and par-
    ents, to translate the children’s work into three languages: Vietnamese,
    Tagalog, and Russian. She explains that children understand and
    respect that people speak many different languages and that, although
    not everyone can speak each of these languages, they are all important.

    While thinking about the Russian translation for one little boy’s
    story, our research collective sourced out alternative digital possibi-
    lities, discovering that if community resources are not available for

    FIGURE 2
    The Dinosaur and the SnakeinTagalog

    Project-Based Community Language Learning 135

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    language translation and support, we can easily link to a global
    translation community using Internet connections and simple word-
    processing software (Lotherington, 2007).

    Michelle’s multilingual slide shows were a response to Shiva’s
    technical difficulties in programming multiple languages: she taught
    her EAs the shifts in the timed slides of the four-page story structures
    her children were creating (i.e., title page, beginning, middle, and end)
    so that they could co-program the story in a combination of languages.
    This required close translation work in telling the story that benefits and
    honours the competencies of the EAs as valuable classroom resources.

    Mike’s narrative: The Little Red Hen (kindergarten)

    At the school where I taught before coming to JPS, there was a big
    focus on equity. We had a lot of workshops that made me realize that
    respecting language differences should be part of the curriculum
    rather than something we do as a special project, especially at this
    grade level, where children typically giggle or point and laugh when
    they hear another language. We decided to count the children every
    day in roll call using their home languages. The giggling soon stopped,
    and the children started coming to class exclaiming, ‘I learned how to
    count in my language!’

    We chose The Little Red Hen for our multiliteracies project, which is a
    procedural story. The story is highly repetitive; it is a dialogue. We
    approached it as a hands-on project. We started in English, with an
    interactive felt board where the children could pin up the dog, the
    duckling, and the pig, but as we went along our board evolved into

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    a learning wall of different languages, and we built generatively on the
    ideas (see Figure 3). There are two multilingual full-time EAs in the
    room who speak Cantonese and Vietnamese, and each of them taught
    and wrote The Little Red Hen in her language. Soon our interactive felt
    board became a multilingual story. The particular languages the EAs
    knew also made us aware of children whose languages we knew little
    about. These children were also invited to come up to the front of the
    classroom and count to 10 in their language; this teaches them that
    their language is important, too.

    There were great follow-ups to the story that invited parents’
    participation in their children’s learning, such as coming in to cook the
    foods the little red hen prepares in the story. Our multilingual
    storyboard literally invited parents into the classroom, whereas before
    they would pick up their children from a distance. I was excited by
    how this display of community languages welcomed parents into the

    I used very simple technologies – a digital camera and a camcorder –
    to document in-class oral and written language use. With these
    technologies, I captured the EAs introducing the different languages
    to the children, the children recognizing and learning the languages,
    and the enthusiasm they showed for multilingual story-telling.

    Visually, it is important for the children at this age to see different
    languages. It was wonderful to have our story written in Cantonese,
    which looks so different, and to learn that the story is still the
    same. One little girl, who came in speaking only Cantonese,

    FIGURE 3
    The Little Red Henas a multilingualwordwall

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    absolutely blossomed. She learned the story in Cantonese at home
    with her mother, then brought it back to the classroom, and she could
    follow along in the other languages.

    The children had fun with languages; they taught me some Spanish
    that they learned from watching Dora the Explorer6 on television.
    Some of them even started to make connections, such as ‘it’s just
    like Italian!’ At this stage of learning, these realizations are key in
    equity learning.

    There is a big push for inclusive education, but sometimes we forget
    the language component. At this age, I think multilingual awareness
    and learning should be part of the curriculum. I see it as a grassroots
    orientation where the school adapts to the languages of the commu-
    nity. The exposure to community languages also helps the children to
    pick up French later.

    At JPS, where there is a huge ESL population, we need to do more
    of this kind of integrated language learning. I’m trying to integrate
    languages at home as well. I tell my parents to speak to our own
    children in Italian, and they are doing more of that.

    Heather’s interpretation: Language learning as inclusive

    Mike literally creates a doorway for community languages in his
    kindergarten. His inclusion of the languages children in his classroom
    speak in telling traditional stories, taking roll call, and counting to
    10 in show-and-tell moments indicates how he has put his belief in
    equity into practice. He has even taken the lessons of his multilingual
    classroom back to his own home, where he has asked his parents to
    use Italian with his young children. Though this is a retroactive step in
    language maintenance in his home, as Beligan, Clyne, and
    Lotherington (1999) demonstrate, having grandparents maintain an
    ancestral language link is a validating and resourceful language
    maintenance practice that can be an effective means of supporting
    bilingualism in home and school languages.

    Mike talks about the importance of visual access to different ways
    of writing the same story as a culturally validating practice. Cortazzi
    and Jin (2007) further emphasize that visual support is conceptually
    important for oral language development, metacognition, and writing
    skills. Mike incorporates pop culture in the classroom by inviting the
    children’s Spanish learning from Dora the Explorer, which validates
    children’s cultural knowledge. Their recognition of Spanish sounding
    like Italian indicates a conceptual grasp of related languages. This is

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    evidence of metalinguistic awareness, which has been shown to be
    better in bilingual children (Bialystok, 2001).

    Mike notes that, to his surprise, parents who had previously
    collected their kindergarten children timidly and silently after school
    began to enter the classroom, smiling at the welcoming sight of a
    language that they recognized – or didn’t recognize but acknowledged
    as friendly to linguistic minorities. By inviting the EAs to share their
    languages for the enrichment education of all students in his class,
    Mike welcomes into the school his students’ parents, who literally
    emerge from the shadows of their children’s education to become
    active participants in the classroom.


    Transformative pedagogy uses collaborative critical inquiry to enable

    students to analyse and understand the social realties of their own lives and

    of their communities. (Cummins, 2001, p. 61)

    Shiva, Michelle, and Mike are all engaged in emergent literacy
    education, a top priority in formal education. What distinguishes their
    pedagogies is that they introduce the children in their classes to
    literacy as multiple encoding, valuing their languages, home cultures,
    and pop-cultural knowledge. In bridging children’s social lives,
    community knowledge, and literacy learning, each valorizes what
    students bring to the classroom, enabling literacy as a reflexive, critical

    Looking at home language use decades ago in three English-
    speaking communities, Heath (1983) demonstrated that the pre-school
    language experiences of children of diverse backgrounds do not
    necessarily correspond to the mainstream, middle-class discourse
    patterns of the school system and that all children would be better
    served if the curriculum included a broader range of language
    practices. Gee (2001) emphasizes the embedded nature of communi-
    cation in literacy education in a more contemporary era characterized
    by multilingualism. Language at home cannot be divorced from
    language at school. Yet, amid the staggering linguistic complexity of
    Toronto’s multiculturalism, immigrant children enter a majority
    language vortex in the classroom where their home language social-
    ization is at best ignored in curricular aims and teaching practices and
    at worst derided, as described by Mike. Children’s minority language
    and cultural capital is still largely negated in a curriculum focusing on

    English and French.

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    Shiva has the advantage of also being an international (Farsi)
    language teacher (at the high school level in another school board). As
    such, she is professionally invested in the pursuit of minority-
    language education. Mays (2008) draws on Gee’s (2001) sociocultural
    approach to early literacy in observing that when expanding on
    classroom languages, the teacher must analyze and understand her
    own cultural positioning and primary discourse in the classroom.
    Academic and political discourse (‘Discourse,’ in Gee’s terminology)
    surrounding English language learners positions and labels them
    negatively in a system driven by external high-stakes assessment. For
    young children just entering school, such labelling can be highly
    damaging. Having a teacher who, like Shiva, Michelle, and Mike,
    invites community languages and cultural knowledge into the
    classroom as positive and inclusive learning changes the discourse,
    the possibilities for thinking and engagement, and the learning

    Shiva’s ideas about cross-age translation indicate how intensely
    aware she is of linguistic diversity and of the resources available
    within the educational system to support children as bilinguals and
    biliterates. Her idea of using continuing education international
    language students to translate the work of her Grade 1 class is a
    brilliant strategy with many unexplored possibilities. Her ideas show
    that we have largely untapped and unexplored cross-age language-
    sharing possibilities in the various programs offered within the formal
    structure of education, including continuing education programs such
    as international languages and adult ESL, that are seldom referenced
    in classroom teaching.


    In examining the discussion taking place among L2 educators, it is clear

    that where we are now and what we are saying about academic language is

    the product of what we see in schools today and of our knowledge of the

    barriers facing minority students. I believe that what we need to do is to

    imagine other possibilities. (Valdés, 2004, p. 125)

    Shiva, Michelle, and Mike have devised successful multiliteracies
    pedagogies that authorize children to import their lived experiences
    into the classroom (Jewitt, 2008). Their pedagogies are exploratory and
    cumulative, collegially shaped, and in continual development. Their
    stories indicate a growing sense of respect for the multilingual capital
    of the school. Particularly striking is the change in both students’ and

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    parents’ attitudes toward the languages they bring into the classroom –
    from ridicule and shame to pride and motivated learning.

    The stories children have produced show promise as a model
    of project-based language awareness and respect, intergenerational
    communication, and community language support. We are working
    toward building opportunities for individualized language mainte-
    nance. The languages children speak, however, are unequally
    resourced in the community. Resources for majority world languages,
    such as Russian and Spanish, or for community languages that
    receive continuing education support, such as Vietnamese and
    Cantonese, are not difficult to locate. However, we do not as readily
    find support for languages such as Turkish, Pashto, Twi, and Kurdish,
    which are also spoken in the community. Further complications
    arise with Caribbean English-based creoles that are spoken varieties
    with clear grammatical differences but are known as ‘English’ to
    their native speakers. In this delicate situation, English becomes
    Englishes, some of which are more grammatically acceptable in
    writing than others.

    Our multiliteracies project is a grassroots response to the suppres-
    sion of community language resources resulting from an exclusive
    curricular focus on English and French that can be implemented
    without systemic changes in language policy. Shiva, Michelle, and
    Mike have succeeded in creating a third space for multilingual
    literacies in their classes. In so doing, they have taught language
    awareness, appreciation of multilingualism and multiculturalism, and
    pride in community languages, which is a huge step toward
    developing equitable opportunities for language maintenance in the
    classroom. Their inclusive pedagogies, furthermore, set the stage for
    the positive learning of French.

    The teachers’ action research studies are part of a larger research
    project on developing multiliteracies pedagogies. Our aim to include
    community languages in literacy education has met both inspirational
    successes (e.g., bilingual slide shows collaboratively written in
    kindergarten) and frustrating obstacles (e.g., complications in pro-
    gramming multilingual audio files). But to create more equitable
    spaces for international and community languages in a provincial
    curriculum that treats them as knowledge to be overcome rather than
    included is a huge and important challenge. As Stagg Peterson and
    Heywood (2007) note, ‘the success of participating schools in
    supporting minority-language students in their literacy learning can
    be attributed to practices and perspectives that challenge the
    assumptions of the deficit model’ (p. 535).

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    There are many challenges, given the proliferation of languages
    in any given class, the varying levels of linguistic support in the
    community, and the variety of orthographies to be included. Shiva,
    Michelle, and Mike have welcomed the languages of the children, their
    parents, and the classroom EAs into their literacy teaching in different
    ways. Their narratives indicate how community languages can be
    incorporated in narrative learning at varying pedagogical junctures.
    Their pedagogical templates offer a valuable resource to teachers who
    wish to explore inclusive language and literacy socialization with their
    ECE populations.

    Dr. Heather Lotherington is Professor of Multilingual Education at York

    University and a past co-editor of The Canadian Modern Language Review. She

    has been collaboratively researching emergent multiliteracies in the elemen-

    tary school with teachers at Joyce Public School since 2003. Their project

    focuses on the creation of multiliteracies pedagogies that facilitate children’s

    construction of postmodern, digitally mediated, multilingual narratives.


    Michelle Holland is a teacher in the primary division at Joyce Public School.

    She has been involved in the JPS collaborative multiliteracies project since 2004,

    participating for two years as a kindergarten teacher and most recently with her

    class of Grade 1 and 2 students, a few of whom have participated in the project

    with her for three years. Michelle is interested in multiliteracies and inclusive

    education, and she has used the project as a means to engage ESL and struggling

    learners. In 2006, Michelle was among the teachers at Joyce Public School whose

    work was recognized with the National Technology Innovation Award.

    Shiva Sotoudeh is a teacher in the primary division at Joyce Public School.

    She also teaches Farsi in the International Languages program in York Region,

    north of Toronto. Shiva has taught learners from kindergarten to adulthood

    over her lengthy teaching career. She has been involved in the JPS

    multiliteracies project since 2005.

    Mike Zentena is a teacher in the primary division at Joyce Public School who

    loves teaching kindergarten. He is currently on parental leave helping to care

    for his three pre-school-aged children. This was Mike’s first year on the JPS

    multiliteracies project.


    Grateful acknowledgement is given to the Social Sciences and Humanities

    Research Council of Canada for standard research grant 410-2005-2080 in

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    support of the research project Emergent multiliteracies in theory and practice:

    Multicultural literacy development at elementary school.


    1 There are schools in Toronto that have incorporated a third language into

    daily teaching in unique programs; these include public schools

    (Cantonese), Catholic schools (Ukrainian), and (private) Jewish schools

    (Hebrew). However, most publicly funded schools teach exclusively in

    English and French.

    2 iMovie is Apple’s proprietary movie-making software.

    3 Although creating multiple soundtracks is possible using various movie-

    making software packages, a complication arises when the teacher has to

    synchronize languages that he or she does not speak (e.g., Yoruba or

    Cantonese) to visual images.

    4 Kid Pix is a powerful software package for drawing, aimed at the very

    young user, that includes creative slide-show functionality with animation,

    text, and sound.

    5 HyperStudio is a multimedia authoring program directed at


    6 Dora the Explorer is a Latina pre-school cartoon character who speaks

    both Spanish and English. See



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    Environmental Education Research

    ISSN: 1350-4622 (Print) 1469-5871 (Online) Journal homepage:

    Children in nature: sensory engagement and the
    experience of biodiversity

    Thomas Beery & Kari Anne Jørgensen

    To cite this article: Thomas Beery & Kari Anne Jørgensen (2018) Children in nature: sensory
    engagement and the experience of biodiversity, Environmental Education Research, 24:1, 13-25,
    DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1250149

    To link to this article:

    Published online: 26 Oct 2016.

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    EnvironmEntal Education rEsEarch, 2018
    vol. 24, no. 1, 13–25

    Children in nature: sensory engagement and the experience of

    Thomas Beerya and Kari Anne Jørgensenb

    aschool of Education and the Environment, man and Biosphere health research Group, university of Kristianstad,
    Kristianstad, sweden; bFaculty of humanities and Education, department of Physical Education, applied arts and
    crafts, university college of southeast norway, vestfold, norway

    Given concerns for a severely diminished childhood experience of nature,
    coupled with alarm for a rapidly diminishing global biodiversity, this article
    considers the potential for childhood nature experience to be an important
    part of biodiversity understanding. Findings from two studies are integrated
    and presented as windows into childhood nature experience to illuminate
    important aspects of sensory rich learning. In one study from Sweden, semi-
    structured interviews with adults were conducted and analyzed to explore
    an understanding of the sensory experience of childhood collecting in
    nature via participant memories. In the second study, direct observations
    of children’s play and exploration in an outdoor kindergarten in Norway were
    conducted and analyzed. Bringing these two studies together for shared
    analysis is useful for investigating biodiversity experience and understanding.
    Analysis supports the idea that the experience of biodiversity, actual
    childhood interaction with variation and diversity with living and nonliving
    items from nature allows children important learning opportunities, inclusive
    of biodiversity understanding. The results support practical implications
    for sensory rich environmental education and underscores the practical
    importance of childhood access to nature.

  • Introduction
  • I remember the troll forest … the different kinds of smells, the damp moist smell of moss. The pine has a specific
    smell. And you know the ponds develop a kind of musty stink…

    This quote is from a study participant’s rich sensory memory of a childhood nature experience. The
    memory features imagination (calling the forest a ‘troll forest’) and highlights the importance and
    diversity of smell. The quote is from one of two distinct studies combined in this investigation of child-
    hood nature experience to illuminate important aspects of childhood sensory rich learning. For the
    purpose of this study, sensory rich learning references learning opportunity from engaging, diverse,
    and intertwined auditory, olfactory, tactile, taste, and visual experiences. One of the two combined
    studies is an ethnographic study emphasizing children’s experiences and voices from nature play and
    exploration. The other study is a phenomenological investigation of adult memories from childhood
    collecting in nature. The term ‘collecting’ is used to include the gathering of items from nature primarily
    for play, exploration, and interest but may include occasional consumption as well. Collecting refers to
    the self-motivated accumulation of natural objects, such as rocks, shells, feathers, and plant parts. The

    received 26 march 2016
    accepted 14 october 2016

    Biodiversity understanding;
    embodied experience;
    experience of nature;
    extinction of experience;
    sensory experience

    © 2016 informa uK limited, trading as taylor & Francis Group

    CONTACT thomas Beery


    14 T. Beery ANd K. A. JørGeNSeN

    definition also includes temporary collections of living creatures as well as consumable foraging (Lekies
    and Beery 2013). These uses are differentiated from non-recreational purposes in which collecting or for-
    aging may be used to meet basic sustenance or cultural needs (Alexander, Cocks, and Shackleton 2015).

    From memories of the gathering of shells on a special beach to observations of ‘wild play’ in a kin-
    dergarten forest, these two studies explore how sensory rich nature experience may contribute to the
    ways in which children come to know nature. This current investigation draws upon on a vast and diverse
    literature of child and nature experience emphasizing direct and sensory rich interaction with nature
    (Abram 1996; Carson and Pratt 1965; Chawla 1994, 2002; Cobb 1993; Lekies and Beery 2013; Nabhan
    and Trimble 1994; Sobel 2002; Wells and Lekies 2006), as well as a broader literature documenting the
    benefits of children and nature (Children and Nature Network research Center 2016). What is useful in
    this current investigation, however, is an integration of data about childhood nature experience from
    different methodological approaches. The data was combined to investigate common aspects of sensory
    richness and embodied experience in the natural environments of childhood in response to growing
    concerns of a diminished experience of nature for many children in today’s world. This concern is
    referred to as an ‘extinction of experience’ (Krasny 2015; Nabhan and St. Antoine 1993; Pyle 1993, 2002).

    Extinction of experience

    The sensory reductive nature of contemporary life, as evidenced by extensive and often passive con-
    sumption of technology, an over-emphasis on the ‘written word,’ and indoor educational settings,
    appears to be contributing to human disconnection from nature (Faber Taylor and Kuo 2006; Kahn,
    Severson, and ruckert 2009; Louv 2005; Pyle and Orr 2008; Taylor 2013). Thomashow (2002) has described
    the extinction phenomenon as ‘… a decline in specific qualities of attention, ways of learning and think-
    ing about the natural world’ (81). Similarly, other terms have been used to consider the experiential
    impact of a diminished direct, or first hand, nature experience. For example, the phrase ‘environmental
    generational amnesia’ has been used to describe a generalized acceptance of degraded environmental
    conditions as the non degraded norm (Kahn 2002, 93). One problematic outcome regarding this trend
    of diminished experience is the loss of opportunities for direct sensory interaction in which children,
    through their own agency, can make physical connections with the biotic/abiotic variety of nature
    (Affifi 2015; Jørgensen 2015; Malone 2015; Skår and Krogh 2009; Taylor 2013). Sobel (2008) highlights
    the importance of this concern with his argument that no level of virtual engagement with the natural
    world can replace the direct and embodied experiences he identifies as critical to children’s cognitive,
    social, emotional, and moral development.

    related to concerns for a diminished human experience of nature is a concern for extinction
    of non-human species, i.e. a rapidly declining biodiversity across the planet (Butchart et al. 2010).
    Biodiversity indexing provides an alarming trend as representative of this dangerous trajectory. For
    example, The Living Planet Index, a global assessment based on more than 10,000 representative pop-
    ulations of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles shows a decline of 52% from 1970 to 2014
    (World Wildlife Fund 2014). These alarming statistics coupled with the rapid rate of urbanization seen in
    the western world (the United Nations [2014] reports current levels of urban population in europe and
    North America at 73 and 82% respectively) point to a potentially serious overlap. It has been noted that
    increased urbanization often corresponds with critical habitat destruction given the observation and
    projections that much of the earth’s current and future urban expansion will take place in areas where
    protection of biodiversity is of high priority (Convention on Biological diversity 2012). In addition, Guisti,
    Barthel, and Lars (2014) remind us that the ‘… socio-technical experience of the urban landscape has
    left the vast majority of urban citizens systematically deprived of in situ nature experiences, especially
    on a daily basis’ (17). Miller (2005) contends that the global loss of biodiversity is linked to the reduced
    human experience of biodiversity and that action acknowledging the linkage has the potential to serve
    both human well-being and biodiversity conservation.

    It is hoped that this article may be able to contribute to a discussion as to how address a rapidly
    declining biodiversity via attention to the problem of a diminished human experience of nature and

    eNvIrONMeNTAL edUCATION reSeArCh 15

    specifically, a diminished human experience of biodiversity. We propose that regular access to nature
    in childhood may be a significant part of the effort to confront the extinction challenge via support-
    ing biodiversity experiences. More specifically, we will consider how nature experience in childhood
    seems to trigger children’s curiosity for collecting, exploration, and play. Therefore, the specific aim
    of this research is to consider the possibility that this ‘collecting, exploration, and play,’ i.e. childhood
    nature experience, may be a critical part of an understanding of biodiversity and other environmental

    Experiencing biodiversity and environmental education

    Biodiversity has long been framed a key idea in environmental education stemming largely from the
    1992 Convention on Biological diversity in which education was featured to encourage countries to act
    on behalf of global biodiversity conservation (dreyfus, Wals, and van Weelie 1999). The general defini-
    tion of biodiversity provided by the Convention for Biological diversity, states: ‘… the variability among
    living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems
    and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between
    species and of ecosystems’ (UN 1992, 3). This general definition serves as a base from which to consider
    necessary interaction to support the understanding of the concept, including experience of species
    variation, variations between species, and the variety of ecosystems supporting biodiversity. Sandifer,
    Sutton-Geier, and Ward (2015) provide a comprehensive typology of benefits of interacting with nature
    and bring the importance of biodiversity experience into their analysis. They stress the concern that just
    when we are coming to better appreciate the ‘variety and complexity of human health benefits that
    stem from experiencing nature, and, more specifically, biodiversity’ (2) we are also reaching a critical
    point in the acceleration of biodiversity loss. Coupling this concern with a perceived lack of research
    into the perception, experience, and valuation of diversity (voigt and Wurster 2015) creates a sense of
    urgency and a heightened significance for the work of educators.

    van Weelie and Wals (2002) argue that environmental education has an important role in mak-
    ing biodiversity meaningful and concludes that despite ill-definition, the biodiversity concept allows
    learners to ‘construct, critique, emancipate and transform their world in an existential way’ (1154).
    As a possible example of this progression, Thomashow (2002) describes a process whereby learners
    progress from observing and experiencing the details and patterns of nature via day-to-day sensory
    experiences to the development of biosphere understanding. This overall progression is in line with
    a strong emphasis in environmental education, i.e. the recognized need to allow children to explore
    nature in order to build a personal and meaningful relationship with the natural world, an idea that is
    woven throughout the history of experiential education (roberts 2012). For example, dewey (1916)
    argued that the use of natural objects is necessary to allow children to procure knowledge about the
    very items, i.e. emphasizing that impressions are based upon the type of direct experiences we have. This
    emphasis on direct experience as a critical part of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor development
    is also a theme throughout early childhood environmental understanding research literature (ernst
    and Tornabene 2012; Fjørtoft 2004; herbert 2008; Samuelson and Kaga 2008). Similarly, Jørgensen
    (2015) describes this learning progression highlighting children’s sensory experience as a part of an
    environmental consciousness including both imagination and knowledge.

    Of specific interest to this current research, are previous studies directly addressing childhood col-
    lecting in nature and/or biodiversity experience. Lekies and Beery (2013) have provided insight and
    detail into the childhood play/explore phenomenon of collecting in nature, for example details about
    the widespread nature of this activity. Chipeniuk (1995) found that children’s foraging for berries and
    mushrooms supported an understanding of concepts related to biodiversity, and Bixler, Floyd, and
    hammitt (2002) described biodiversity understanding as incidental learning that occurs through the
    encounter with natural variation, i.e. large numbers of different insects, plants, and animals during
    foraging. They argue that such exploration may make ‘… the concept of biodiversity both easier to
    comprehend and personally relevant’ (Bixler, Floyd, and hammitt 2002, 799). These studies, emphasizing

    16 T. Beery ANd K. A. JørGeNSeN

    the direct interaction with natural variation, highlight embodied experience as an important element
    in the learning process.

    Embodied experiences of biodiversity

    Childhood experience is an appropriate arena to consider how childhood nature exploration, which is
    often highly physical, combining bodily interaction and sensory attentiveness, may be able to provide
    insight on the role of embodied experience to stimulate curiosity, discovery, and biodiversity under-
    standing. We use Gibb’s (2003) description of embodiment as people’s subjective and felt experiences of
    their bodies in action and the role of this interaction on meaning making to better understand sensory
    experience. For example, Linzmayer, halpenny, and Walker (2013) identified the importance of sensory
    experiences for children visiting a botanical garden emphasizing how touch, sight, sound, smell, and
    taste were important in children’s recollection of meaningful experiences at the garden, including
    the colors of flowers, the sounds of bees, the feeling of rain on the body, the taste of berries and the
    sight of butterflies. Similarly, James and Bixler (2008) identified the importance of novelty and sensory
    experiences, particularly touch, among children attending a coastal beach environmental education
    program. The ability to have direct sensory experience of the landscape, such as sand, shells, bird parts,
    and live reptiles enhanced children’s learning and provided an opportunity for intimate interaction with
    natural objects and living creatures, making the experience meaningful (James and Bixler 2008). These
    are just two studies from a long line of Western educational thought describing embodied experience
    and learning (Taylor 2013).

    The philosophical theories of Merleau-Ponty (1968) with the body as central for our ‘being in’ and
    perception of the world provides a theoretical foundation for understanding this idea. Merleau-Ponty
    emphasizes the role of the ‘sensing body’ for how we experience and the perceive of the world; lived
    experiences and the body in motion are important for how we create meaning (Ingold 2000; Merleau-
    Ponty 1968). A contemporary example of this idea of embodied experience relevant to our interest in
    biodiversity understanding is the work in health, environmental, and outdoor education (Wattchow
    et al. 2014). For example, Brown, Jeanes, and Cutter-Mackenzie (2014) describe a social ecological
    approach to education and illuminate the role of lived experience. They highlight that such an approach
    recognizes how the senses, emotion, and cognition are all intertwined and emphasize that the ‘…
    essence of lived experiences occurs through the body, where intrinsic and subjective qualities of expe-
    rience provide us with opportunities for insight and understanding. This method or approach prior-
    itizes how the body feels, sees, reacts, and thus knows and understands’ (30). Nabhan (1994) provides
    a glimpse of just what this engagement looks like in his description of approaching a significant vista
    with his own young children: ‘Whenever we arrived at such a promontory, dustin and Laura rose would
    approach it with me, then abruptly release their hands from mine, to scour the ground for bones, pine
    cones, sparkly sandstone, feathers, or wildflowers’ (6). As the author of the passage enjoyed an expansive
    view, his children were afforded the opportunity to physically engage with the small details of the place.
    This scene of exploration is what Chawla (2002) describes as a baptism in the world by immersion: ‘…
    such as children in play who literally live close to the ground up and against the full sensory qualities
    of things…’ (209).

    Gibson and Pick (2000) note the simultaneous discovery of properties of the environment and
    agency as learners directly perceive and interact with the natural world using all five senses. herbert
    (2008) would argue that self willed and direct bodily interaction with nature provides an experience
    of learning, she writes:

    In the early years, children’s sense of wonder, and their desire to explore the real world, are the perfect vehicles for
    absorbing fundamental understanding about the earth’s cycles – how plants grow, how weather/climate affect
    our lives, how plants/animals/humans interact, and how the living and non-living worlds are interdependent (64).

    This emphasis on the self willed aspect of sensory childhood exploration highlights a key component
    of education for Sustainable development (eSd). early childhood eSd educators have argued for the

    eNvIrONMeNTAL edUCATION reSeArCh 17

    important perception of children as active participants in their own learning, such as self directed play
    and/or collecting as part of everyday experiences (davies, engdahl, and Otieno 2009).

    Considering the potential for the complexity and variation of nature to be experienced through the
    rich body-sensory impressions of self directed play, such engagement may also be a way to gain deeper
    understanding of biodiversity. If an understanding of how embodied and sensory rich experience may
    support learning, it will require on-going efforts to identify specific connections between the sensory
    rich experience and young learners. We wish, therefore, not to simply argue for embodied sensory rich
    experience, but to consider the details of specific childhood activity in nature.

  • Methods
  • Two specific methods are used in order to explore a potential relationship between childhood nature
    experience and biodiversity understanding. One is a study of childhood collecting in nature via
    semi-structured interviews with Swedish university students from an on-going study of childhood
    collecting in nature (Brensinger, Lekies, and Beery 2016). The second study involves direct observation
    of the nature experiences of Norwegian kindergarten children from a broader ethnographic study of
    children’s experiences of natural landscapes and their places (Jørgensen 2015). Specific methods for
    data collection along with details of how the two different studies were integrated for analysis are
    presented in this section.

    Semi-structured interviews

    Thirteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants volunteering from a related
    survey (Brensinger, Lekies, and Beery 2016). Many of the survey participants indicated a willingness
    to participate in this follow-up study (approximately 25% of the 380 survey participants). Selection of
    participants for the semi-structured interviews, however, was based on schedule, access and a determi-
    nation that a small sample of participants who self identified as having spent time collecting in nature as
    children would be sufficient. Of the 13 participants, nine grew up in Sweden, three grew up in a country
    other than Sweden and one grew up in both Sweden and another country. eleven participants were
    male and two were female. Nine different fields of study were represented by the participant group.
    Interviews were conducted at two different university campuses in an attempt to manage time/distance
    factors (the university is largely a commuter campus with students commuting from throughout a large
    region to attend). Interviews lasted for 25–60 min with an average duration of 45 min. The interviews
    were recorded and recordings were then transcribed and analyzed using qualitative research guide-
    lines from hycner (1985). This process involved numerous stages of transcript review in an attempt to
    consider meaning from the researcher’s perspective, the participants perspective, general meanings
    and meaning relative to the question of sensory experience. From this analysis, clusters of relevant
    meaning were determined and themes assigned.

    Use of interviews based on adult memories of childhood raise important methodological consid-
    erations. For example, memory accuracy and memory bias must be considered and noted as potential
    concerns when using responses from adults regarding their personal childhood experiences. From
    such concern, however, comes potential strength. Consideration of possible limitations sharpens
    awareness and demands careful attention in the process of interpreting and analyzing data. Further,
    we can consider how such noted potential bias may actually serve the research process. For exam-
    ple, consider adult memory of childhood experience, where rich and detailed adult memories may
    speak to the importance of these memories. This importance has been noted by Chawla (1999), who
    advises environmental educators to find ways to foster the kind of experiences for children have that
    come to figure so prominently in memory, the kind of memories expressed and experiences noted
    by the participants in this study and other studies. For example, in a study of long-term impacts of
    participation in environmental education programs in the United States, Williams and Chawla (2015)
    noted that one-third of the participants discussed mementos such as feathers or rocks that they had

    18 T. Beery ANd K. A. JørGeNSeN

    obtained during their outdoor experiences, now 5–40 years later. These items remained salient in the
    participants’ memories and often remained meaningful in their lives over the years. Further support in
    related research can be found in Skår and Krogh’s (2009) work exploring adult memories of childhood
    play and nature-based experiences.

    Observation and informal conversations

    The second research method employed was participating observation, photo documentation and
    informal conversations. Thirty-four children in a Norwegian municipal kindergarten, ages one to six,
    were observed on 30 occasions of 5–7 h each over a 10-month period during which the children were
    followed in their outdoor play and exploration. The observations are part of a broader ethnographic
    study of children’s experiences of natural landscapes and their places (Jørgensen 2015). In addition to
    the parents’ consent, in accordance with ethical standards of informed consent, the children were told
    why the researcher followed them. The communication with the children and the possibility to observe
    and accompany the children made it possible to come close to and describe the children’s construction
    of meaning in their encounters with the natural landscapes. As a participating observant, the researcher
    experienced the environment together with the children. This is not meant to imply that the observer
    and children had the same experiences, but rather that the children and observer shared impressions
    of the same environment, which involved the sensory aspects of a specific place and time. The informal
    conversations were initiated by the researcher and also by the children themselves. Another source
    of conversations were photos taken of significant places from the kindergarten outdoor area, places
    often used by the children. Narrative analyzes from these data was a way to identify and create mean-
    ing from lived experiences (Bruner 1986, 1996; Connelly and Clandinin 2012; van Manen 1997). The
    thick descriptions of narratives (Geertz 1993) are suitable to broaden the perspectives on childhood
    experiences and to gain a deeper sense into the importance of biodiversity.

    Methods synthesis

    discussion between the researchers allowed for a consideration of the two data sources relative to
    each other. Specifically, four key themes were identified from the interview data: sensory experience,
    diversity, ecological ideas and environmental understanding. The themes were then used to review the
    narratives in consideration as to whether they provided for useful comparison or contrast. The results
    and preliminary analysis are presented together in a back and forth fashion in order to highlight how
    the two sources both support and enrich each other. each theme from this analysis is provided in the
    following section with specific data from both methods to support (participant interview statements
    and observation field notes).

  • Results and preliminary analysis
  • Sensory experiences

    The theme of sensory experience emerged repeatedly from the responses of all of the adult interview
    participants. Consider the following examples from five of the interview participants:

    P4: … we had a small cave and it smelled like rock … And when you got up on top you felt a breeze from the
    ocean … When we went down to the beach, you had different kinds of smells, you had both the trees and
    the seawater, I can feel all smells.

    P5: … I had a rock I laid upon, it was always warm, against the stomach. It was along the shore, I usually would
    swim to it and lay on it.

    P6: Whenever I smell the resin from pines … I must have been 6 or 5 and I remember being out in the woods
    walking and there is a moose in front of me, actually me and my mom, and we freeze … I remember the
    smell of…pause…of pine.

    eNvIrONMeNTAL edUCATION reSeArCh 19

    P12: … the forest has a specific smell I would say. Also like dirt…The smell and the fresh air and the whole expe-
    rience, the colors, the wilderness, it is quiet, you only hear birds singing…

    P13: We also went to their island and took their eggs (Skua) so they wouldn’t reproduce. We ate them … They
    are the best eggs you can find … soft boiled and they are delicious.

    The theme of sensory experience emerged in the analysis of the field notes of the kindergarten obser-
    vations as well. Walking into the forest from the open and designed playground seemed to present
    new perspectives and possibilities for the children’s play, activity closely connected to the children’s
    sensory experiences. The children constantly moved to and from the path as they were playing. The
    children were observed hiding between bushes, balancing on stones and using cones, stones and
    branches for play purposes. Their playful approach towards the environment was nurtured by sensory
    impressions from uneven ground, shades and sunlight, the sound of the rustle in leaves and wet falling
    rain. Consider this field note observation:

    early October, it had been heavy rain for some days. As we walk through the wood, the sun approaches and the
    light through the leaves makes the drops of water visible. The children seek and seem to find every pond on their
    way, on and outside the path. There is loud laughter as some of the children makes the small trees move and in
    this way create rainfall. There is an excitement as some of the children recognize several spider nets early found
    decorated with small drops of water. Sticks collected on the way are transformed to fishing rods or simply used for
    investigating the ponds and wet ground.

    The changes through the year were also a part of this sensory theme. Consider this field note observation:
    This day I arrived the campsite of the forest group about an hour after the children. As I arrive, elsa (4 years) comes
    running, greeting me: ‘hello! did you see the stream today?’ (She asks with excitement in her voice.) Me: ‘The stream?’
    She, sounds disappointed: ‘yes, did you not slide?’

    The stream they passed on the way into the forest was frozen and the children had used it for sliding
    on their journey into the forest. This is an example of the children’s attention for changes in the envi-
    ronment. Frozen water is exciting, from the first thin layers of ice cracking when they stepped on it, up
    to the point it was solid and slide-able.


    Another key theme noted by a majority of the interview participants, and also noted as significant to
    the kindergarten observations was participant interest in ‘difference,’ i.e. finding objects that were exotic,
    unique, strange, or showed interesting variation. Consider these examples from four different interviews:

    P2: … you discover that when you are at different places, like the stones, and then the earth was really red there!
    Maybe I didn’t know what it was, probably the mineral is in the soil and then maybe you are in one place and
    have stones that are really dark and then you got another beach and have them in all colors…

    P7: My dad worked in the forest and he knows everything about trees and so I tried to collect different kinds of
    leaves just to try to organize them, you know, what kind of species…

    P9: … there was a special place to find seashells, not fossils, river shells, but it was so exotic, because richer kids
    that that went to the seaside, the Black Sea, 400 km away (found shells there). We had no car and not a chance
    to see the Black Sea. But yeah, this is something that belongs to the seaside and not here, it was something
    real exotic.

    P11: We used to build these bird houses … and place them in the forest, so I used to know the different types of
    birds and we had a bird book and we looked in it quite often.

    Memories of environmental differences, uniqueness and variety was also apparent in the kindergar-
    ten children’s experience of the landscape, with the living organisms and the variation in terrain and
    vegetation important to the children. The first theme of sensory experience was intertwined with the
    theme of diversity. The diversity of the landscape inspired development of storylines and creation of
    new places. For example:

    Thor, a three-year-old boy, leads me by the hand. he takes me along a narrow path, lets my hand go and asks me
    to follow him to some dangerous places. he says, ‘By the way, we can also find blueberries there.’ On the way we

    20 T. Beery ANd K. A. JørGeNSeN

    do pass a stone, he names ‘The Fortress.’ There are small sticks placed on the stone. ‘These are our weapons,’ he tells
    me. The sticks had been placed there while the children were playing.

    during this walk, not far from the campsite, there were places that were of a different meaning for Thor.
    The sticks added a functional meaning for the children’s common play theme. They were stored in place
    as artifacts fulfilling a certain purpose. The sensory experiences included openness of the material
    and the atmosphere of the landscape and its places. Topography, stones for climbing upon (to get a
    view) and to provide shelter and vegetation with herbs such as blueberry bushes and a variety of trees
    afforded opportunities for hiding, climbing and foraging. The smell from the green leaves, the sweet-
    ness from the herbs and the characteristic smell of spruce and pine, the sound of wind in the trees and
    the differences of light and shadows were due to the variety and diversity within the landscape, with
    direct relevance to the children’s attentiveness of their surroundings. The children interacted with the
    environment constantly: collecting, using, reducing and rebuilding new stores of sticks, stones, shells
    or cones. All items served for multiple purposes in common imaginative play themes, such as weapons
    and food (or even hairdresser equipment) to mention just a few. Observing the interaction between
    the children’s moving, sensing bodies and the richness of the environment provides insight into the
    children’s experiences of biotic/abiotic variation and diversity.

    Ecological ideas and environmental understanding

    Many interview participants shared stories of collecting that referenced a connection between the
    experience of collecting and broader environmental ideas. For example, five of the participants named
    ‘cycle’ or made reference to a natural cyclic process as something they experienced during their child-
    hood collecting. One participant noted that he didn’t learn a lot of names (identification of species
    while collecting), but that his frog egg collecting in the spring taught him that certain processes ‘start
    over again…you know, it goes around.’ Other examples of natural cycle references from an additional
    three participants include:

    P3: Where I lived was a suburban area outside of Stockholm, we had a forest, well not a big forest, but for me
    as a child it was a big forest and it had ponds in there … they had tadpoles, so I collected tadpoles and we
    had an aquarium at home so I brought them home and watched them develop to frogs and then released
    them at the pond.

    P7: you get a feel for the cycle for the year, the buds, the leaves, then the leaves falling off and changing color
    and that kind of stuff.

    P11: … seeing the trees and listening to the birds and also the sound of this certain bird … it is called a Gök, it
    goes ‘cukcoo’. They pop up quite early in the spring…

    A number of the participants considered the experience of their own environmental understanding as
    they explored memories of childhood collecting. Consider this reflection, a part of a lengthy description
    of an interest in shellfish and their adaptations:

    P13: There were these puddles with the alive shells, the snails inside … I just watched them and saw how they
    worked and the other shells … close together, mussels and clams … And then in my teen years I went to
    biology, I learned more about it from the teacher, how it worked and how they ate. Well, I was interested
    probably more than the other kids, I wanted to learn more about what I had been collecting…

    The quote above also highlights how participants were even able to describe how details of the collect-
    ing experience became a part of learning and their interest or curiosity to learn more, other examples

    P1: I don’t know, the sea is mysterious for me, it is just … where was it in the sea (animal from a shell), how did it
    come to the sand? did it die in the water? did it die on the beach? Things like that.

    P6: … it makes you wonder a lot why things are what they are. Why leaves turn brown in the fall and so on. I
    learned to ask from seeing the changing nature…you wonder about everything and keep asking, asking, and
    at last put some pieces together by yourself.

    P11: We studied them … you took in your hand and studied. (butterflies)

    eNvIrONMeNTAL edUCATION reSeArCh 21

    There was also a curiosity for other living organisms and awareness of ecological phenomena observed
    in the kindergarten children’s investigation of their environment. Consider this field note detailing the
    observation of children looking for sea stars:

    “do you know that the sea stars have one eye on each arm?” One of the boys looks at me as he holds a sea star in
    his hand pointing at the arms and counting: ‘One, two, three, four five…’ The children waded in the sea they took
    the sea stars carefully up from the saltwater and placed them in plastic trunks or buckets with salt water. They
    discussed colors, how to take care of them and discussed which sea star belonged to whom. After a while, they
    let them go, into the sea again…

    The focus of the children’s interest on the living animals were especially directed towards smaller species
    that could easily be observed and touched. Collecting sea stars was not motivated from an interest
    for building a permanent collection but rather the children curiously explored the life form of these
    creatures. At the same time, they used them in their imaginative play. The sea stars were just one of
    the small animals that drew the children’s attention, one of many wonders at the seashore. There were
    other small creatures, jellyfish and crabs in the sea and insects and earthworms in the woods, that
    constantly attracted the children’s attention. By handling these animals, the children showed care and
    knowledge by being attentive and keeping them in an environment suited for their biological needs.

  • Discussion
  • early in this paper the concern for an ‘extinction of experience’ was noted and in response this study has
    attempted to provide a better picture of just what that childhood embodied nature experience looks
    like. A synthesis of key results presented in this paper highlight the importance of childhood sensory
    experiences as a point of departure for development of ecological ideas and embodied environmental
    understanding. Specifically, these results provide support for the idea that childhood nature collect-
    ing, play, and exploration is a rich avenue for sensory experience and environmental understanding.
    The sensory memories described and experiences observed in these combined studies illustrate the
    importance of human engagement with natural landscapes during child development. As detailed in
    the results, all of the adult participants were able to recall rich sensory experience: smells, sounds, taste,
    and the experience of touching. And for the small children, spending their everyday lives out of doors
    and visiting the same environments ensured that these sensory experiences were intertwined with
    their exploration and play. The strength of the sensory memories and the regular observations of rich
    sensory immersion highlight the potential value in direct experiences in which children, through their
    own agency, can make connections with the biotic/abiotic variety of nature. The small children’s playful
    exploration in and of the environment were closely connected to ecological knowledge. The diversity
    of the landscapes and the experiences of other living creatures seemed intertwined with their play. As
    noted by rautio (2013) these interactions in which children ‘make themselves available to their material
    surroundings’ (454) is of great value. Significantly, the memories of the adults corresponded with the
    way the children approached and interpreted their environment, and for both groups the embodied
    experiences were important. The body was central for their ‘being in the world’ and their perception
    of the world theoretical (Merleau-Ponty 1968).

    Implications for environmental education

    The tensions surrounding a lack of nature experiences in childhood is also a concern for how our
    educational systems provide new generations rich experience as a tool to understand and appreciate
    biodiversity. While we have not measured specific knowledge of biodiversity understanding as a part
    of the experiences described, descriptions have been provided that are useful for a deeper consider-
    ation of just how important aspects of biodiversity and other complex environmental ideas may be
    experienced. Instead of looking for specific evidence about how children can learn about biodiversity,
    the examples offer a glimpse of the importance being in nature has for individual’s experience of bio-
    diversity and connection to the natural world. Observations and stories show how the transformation

    22 T. Beery ANd K. A. JørGeNSeN

    of sticks, stones, cones, and shells to different purposes were a part of creative processes that have
    implications for learning; we propose that concepts such as biodiversity, cycle, or system come to life
    via leaves, tadpoles and sea stars.

    This focus on biodiversity experience is one response to the critical state of biodiversity conservation
    in the world today. The complexity of the concept of biodiversity (specifically, the breadth of the concept,
    encompassing a range of meaning from genetic variability to ecosystem diversity), demands attention
    if we want the general public to have a meaningful or useful understanding of the idea. embodied
    childhood nature experiences, as described in this study, may be a part of a useful educational strategy.
    For the adult groups looking back, the childhood experiences were paths towards an understanding
    of biodiversity and ecological ideas, just as the observation of the young children showed how they
    explored and experienced meaning of the environment and other species. The wonder of other living
    creatures, the curiosity and fascination of learning about the transformation of a butterfly, or the eyes
    and mouth of a sea star noted in this paper are not what we sometimes refer to as ‘fun-facts,’ it is knowl-
    edge built on existential experience. We draw inspiration from the broad educational ideals of dewey
    (1938) and the specific environmental education ideas of van Weelie and Wals (2002) regarding the
    role of education to help to make biodiversity meaningful; we assert that learning based on the com-
    bination of experiences and reflections upon the learning process can be brought together to create
    new knowledge. If we see such experience as important, it should also have implications for how we
    teach and within what environments we allow the children to explore and learn.

    A part of the desired outcome for children to be have rich sensory experience as a part of their early
    environmental learning is the previously noted idea of agency that develops via self willed exploration
    and interaction with other species and biotic/abiotic items. As proposed by Gibson and Pick (2000),
    there may be an overlap between the development of agency and sensory interaction of the environ-
    ment by young learners. If the high level of attention and direction many children put into creative
    play and nature observation via collecting is the kind of interest and motivation we wish to see in the
    classroom (indoor or outdoor, formal or non-formal), we would be wise to take note. Action research
    involving practitioners in nature rich educational settings may be useful for continued investigation
    of these ideas. And further, additional study that directly engages children in the research process
    (e.g. Jørgensen 2015) is needed in order to fully consider how we come to understand children’s expe-
    riences and creation of meaning. Such opportunities for children as active participants in their own
    learning serves eSd efforts as well; children may be able to use their experiences and understanding
    to take action meaningful to their lives (davies, engdahl, and Otieno 2009). While this study has not
    investigated long term biodiversity conservation behavioral outcomes, this is yet another important
    direction for continued research.

    Proximate access

    Another closely related and important implication of this research is the value of proximate access to
    nature in order to support the opportunity for quality childhood nature experience. We are reminded
    of the potential of such access by the interview participant who enthusiastically described her sum-
    mertime access to nature with the simple description: ‘I could just run off like crazy’ and then went on
    to describe her adventures and discoveries. The current trend in access to nature, however, is a part of
    the contemporary challenges to direct childhood experience of nature addressed in the introduction.
    Therefore, a key role for educators, along with parents, public health officials, landscape planners, urban
    planners, etc. is securing proximate access to nature for children. Qualities of variation and diversity in
    biotic/abiotic features of access are important, yet this does not imply that only vast and wild settings
    can meet these access needs. Many accounts of childhood play in close to home abandoned lots or
    forgotten ditches provide rich stories of childhood nature experience of variation and diversity (Pyle
    1993). however, beyond the opportunistic access to such ‘waste places’, a useful idea is that of ‘biophilic
    cities’ (derr and Lance 2012, 115). This idea, described as children’s environments that foster connections
    to nature, may be able to guide urban green space planning for proximate access to sensory rich nature

    eNvIrONMeNTAL edUCATION reSeArCh 23

    experience. recent research to support this identified pedagogic role of access to nature in cities is
    illuminated in the preschool settings study of Matteo, Barthel, and Lars (2014) who found a significant
    relationship between the development of affinity with the biosphere with nature rich settings and
    nature rich routines in an urban context.

  • Conclusion
  • An overarching outcome of a better understanding of childhood nature experience is the potential to
    serve child development while simultaneously addressing environmental quality concerns. As noted
    earlier by Miller (2005), we need to see the link between our human experiences of nature and the
    health of our natural systems. raising biodiversity awareness and making biodiversity experientially
    accessible to people is an essential part of current and future biodiversity conservation. The ‘extinction
    of experience’ noted in the introduction must be seen as a part of the global biodiversity crisis and we
    urge consideration of just how human experience of biodiversity may be able to serve as a tool in current
    biodiversity conservation efforts. We do not propose that education is the sole factor in an enhanced
    biodiversity conservation effort, (other infrastructural, technological and managerial efforts must also
    be considered [heberlein 2012]), we do, however, insist that education has an important role to play.
    Our future success with global biodiversity conservation may have more to do with our understand-
    ing of human learning and behavior than our understanding of ecology. Ultimately, we urge deeper
    consideration of how making biodiversity and other environmental ideas meaningful may start with
    childhood wild play, free exploration, and perhaps, a shell collection.

  • Acknowledgements
  • The authors wish to acknowledge dawn Sanders for her inspiration and support with this project.

  • Disclosure statement
  • No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

  • Notes on contributors
  • Thomas Beery is an assistant professor at Kristianstad University environmental education. his research interests include
    childhood nature experience, biodiversity understanding, ecosystem services, and outdoor recreation.

    Kari Anne Jørgensen is an associate professor at University College of Southeast Norway Outdoor education, Nature,
    health and Nutrition. The author’s research interests include outdoor education, pedagogy, environmental education,
    ecophilosophy, and play and learning.

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    Wells, N., and K. Lekies. 2006. “Nature and the Life Course: Pathways From Childhood Nature experiences to Adult

    environmentalism.” Children, Youth, and Environments 16 (1): 1–24.
    Williams, C. C., and L. Chawla. 2015. “environmental Identity Formation in Nonformal environmental education Programs.”

    Environmental Education Research 22 (7): 978–1001. doi:10.1080/13504622.2015.1055553.
    World Wildlife Fund. 2014. Living Planet Report 2014: Species and Spaces, People and Places. Gland: WWF.

    • Abstract
    • Introduction
      Extinction of experience
      Experiencing biodiversity and environmental education
      Embodied experiences of biodiversity
      Semi-structured interviews
      Observation and informal conversations
      Methods synthesis
      Results and preliminary analysis
      Sensory experiences
      Ecological ideas and environmental understanding
      Implications for environmental education
      Proximate access
      Disclosure statement
      Notes on contributors


    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 27

    DOI: 10.1177/1096250608314591

    © 2008 Division for Early Childhood

    Kathleen I. Harris, MEd
    Kent State University

    Leslie Gleim, MEd, NBCT
    Mid-Pacific Institute, HI
    (formerly with Carousel Center, Portsmouth, OH)

    The Light Fantastic: Making Learning
    Visible for All Children Through the
    Project Approach

    In a preschool classroom located
    in a middle-class midwestern
    community, small groups of children
    engage in classroom activities when
    the teacher, Ms. Leslie, notices that
    Madison, a 4-year-old with Down
    syndrome, has become interested in
    a flashlight. Carrying it over to Ms.
    Leslie, Madison points it at the
    teacher and says, “Ta-da!


    that the flashlight did not work,
    Madison tilts it toward herself,
    peering into its lens. Noting that
    the light still had not come on, she
    tried again to no avail. Madison
    checks the flashlight’s lens once
    more, and again the light fails to
    appear. Seeing that it did not work,
    she tosses the flashlight aside.
    After Madison’s experience with the

    flashlight, Ms. Leslie reflects upon
    what this incident reveals about the
    child and the flashlight. The child
    knew where the light originated
    and thought that pointing it at a
    person or object caused it to shine.
    She needed to explore further how
    the light worked. With this, the
    Light Fantastic project began to
    take shape in this classroom.

    uriosity, wonder, creativity,
    questions, initiation by the
    child, and framing by the

    teacher—all these characterize the
    project approach.

    Projects can be an

    invaluable part of any curriculum,

    opportunities for children

    to study subjects they find interesting
    in detail (Katz & Chard, 2000).
    Early childhood special educators
    actively teaching in an inclusive early
    childhood classroom may ask
    themselves, “What exactly is a
    project? Isn’t it part of my themes
    and curriculum?” Project work is not
    a method one uses after the “real”
    teaching has occurred; instead, it is a
    foundational approach enabling
    children to be self-motivated learners
    equipped with the skills to do in-
    depth investigations of topics worth
    learning (Elliott, 1998).

    The investigation is usually
    undertaken by a small group
    of children within a class,
    sometimes by a whole class,
    and occasionally by an
    individual child. The key
    element of a project is that it is
    a research effort deliberately
    focused on finding answers to
    questions about a topic posed
    either by the children, the
    teacher, or the teacher
    working with the children.
    (Helm & Katz, 2001, p. 1)

    Advocates of inclusion in early
    childhood classrooms have shifted
    attention to the rights of young
    children to belong in the natural
    environment within their
    communities (Vakil, Freeman, &
    Swim, 2003). The purpose of this
    article is to illustrate how projects
    can be a welcoming and enriching
    addition to an emerging curriculum
    for children with special needs.

    Offering an authentic, child-sensitive
    approach that organizes and
    integrates curriculum, project-based
    learning is an excellent way to make
    learning meaningful for young
    children, because their minds
    develop rapidly. At a time when
    early childhood educators are held
    accountable for teaching particular
    concepts and skills, sometimes
    leading to inappropriate teaching
    strategies for all young children, the
    project approach allows learning to
    be applied in a meaningful situation
    (Elliott, 1998).

    Because children make important
    decisions both during and after
    project work, they are more
    committed to these topics of study
    they choose than to those imposed
    upon them. Observing children and
    taking their interests into
    consideration when developing a
    curriculum allow teachers to focus
    on the “individually appropriate”
    portion of a developmentally
    appropriate curriculum (Bredekamp
    & Copple, 1997). Children who
    engage in project work have
    opportunities to investigate and
    examine their own interests and
    theories; in so doing, they participate
    fully in the learning process.
    Constructivist educators, adopting
    the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky,
    have advocated an approach to
    curriculum and teaching that is
    student centered, inquiry based,
    integrated, and intellectually
    engaging (Sorrels, Norris, &
    Sheeran, 2005). Thus, all young
    children, including those with special
    needs, benefit from investigating and
    exploring the world in an authentic
    way as active participants in the
    learning community. Only within a
    caring community can development
    and learning be enhanced (Vakil
    et al., 2003).

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim

    YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN Vol. 11, No. 3, June 200828

    Projects can be an

    invaluable part of any


    The project approach allows
    young children with special needs
    unique opportunities to move
    forward in their individual
    developmental journeys. Each
    child’s personalized meaning making
    in his or her approach to the project
    reflects the child’s home culture and
    environment (Hyun, 2006). The
    children come to school with
    curiosity and enthusiasm for
    learning, and especially those at risk

    for academic problems benefit from
    learning meaningfully through
    projects that expose them to ideas,
    skills, and experiences (Helm,
    2004). Because project work is built
    on the interest of the child, the work
    becomes intuitively motivational for
    the child. Capturing this interest,
    teachers and therapists can link
    learning strategies that are
    integrated into and through the
    project instead of isolating them.

    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim


    For example, Robert is a 4.6-year-
    old who entered preschool with
    significant delays. He showed no
    interest in drawing nor exhibited
    any literacy skills. During a
    project centering on a robin that
    had built a nest on the school
    playground, eggs were laid and
    hatched, and the children visited
    the nest daily watching the birds.
    So that the children would
    remember what they observed,
    Ms. Leslie asked her students to
    draw what they saw in the nest.
    Robert drew a nest, with a mother
    bird and three chicks. The
    following day he took his drawing
    and created birds from clay,
    making a significant shift in
    media. One day, the robin and her
    chicks flew away. As the project
    continued unfolding, Robert
    observed the other children
    making Wanted posters that were
    to be placed in the neighborhood
    asking the community to help find
    the lost school birds. Robert
    wanted to make a poster as well.
    Using some scaffolding tools, Ms.
    Leslie had Robert dictate to her
    what he wanted his poster to say.
    Then Robert copied his words
    onto his own poster. In this
    project, Robert moved across
    symbolic representations.

    Project work for all young
    children, including those with
    special needs, can lead to higher
    level thinking. It is not a
    supplementary method one uses
    after traditional teaching has
    occurred; instead, it represents a
    fundamental approach that makes
    use of the children’s own
    motivation and the teacher’s skills
    to help the children conduct
    in-depth investigations (Elliott, 1998).
    Empowering all children as they
    make real decisions about what
    they will investigate, project work
    provides a range of contexts in
    which significant content and skill
    requirements can be addressed.
    When working on a project, young
    children learn a rich, new
    vocabulary as their knowledge of a
    familiar object deepens and expands
    (Chard, 1998). The project
    approach provides neither required
    curriculum content nor content
    standards, yet within a rich project
    experience, one clearly can find
    content standards being addressed.
    Projects provide numerous ways for
    children to learn through art,
    writing, storytelling, and dramatic
    play (Grisham-Brown, Hemmeter,
    & Pretti-Frontczak, 2005), for
    example, aligning math content
    standards to a project involving
    shoes. Children may count the
    shoes for number sense, measure

    the length of one another’s shoes
    for measurement, identify and sort
    shoes by shape and size for
    geometry, create a pattern with one
    another’s shoes for algebra, gather
    and sort data based on questions
    from the teacher or children for
    data analysis, and draw pictures of
    shoes to represent mathematical

    The project approach has been
    a voice in education with a long,
    rich history. A central part of the
    Progressive Education movement, it
    was used extensively in the British
    Infant Schools in the 1960s and
    1970s (Smith, 1997). One of the
    first theorists to suggest that
    children learn best from planning
    their own activities and
    implementing their own plans, John
    Dewey (1938) held that projects
    allow for multilevel instruction,
    cooperative learning, peer support,
    and individualized curriculum goals
    and learning experiences.

    Education must begin with a
    psychological insight into the
    child’s capacities, interests, and
    habits. The child’s own instincts
    and powers furnish the material
    and give the starting point for all
    education (Dewey, 1916).
    Malaguzzi (1993) asserted that a
    classroom is composed of children
    with different strengths, interests,
    and abilities. Accommodating
    differences, projects encompass a
    wide variety of tasks, and children
    with diverse abilities can contribute
    productively. The child
    demonstrates his or her ability to
    modify the project experience in
    ways unexpected by the teacher but
    culturally congruent with the
    child’s cognitive and social growth,
    home culture, and learning
    experience (Hyun, 2006).
    Multilevel instruction taking place
    during project work allows teachers
    to incorporate the goals of each
    child’s Individualized Educational
    Plan (IEP) within everyday
    classroom experiences (Edmiaston,

    Projects and the
    Interests of the Child

    The project approach requires
    teaching and learning different
    from the traditional ways generally
    guiding children to learn through
    their interests (Katz & Chard,
    2000). Interest is the heart of the
    matter (Sorrels et al., 2005). The
    assumption underlying the project
    approach is that children are
    naturally curious about their
    immediate world and will learn
    how to learn if we use that

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim

    YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN Vol. 11, No. 3, June 200830

    immediate world (Morgenthaler,
    1997). Project investigations entail
    formulating and asking questions
    about topics of interest to young
    children. When they are given time
    to ponder, investigate, ask
    questions, and reflect, their sense
    of wonder can flourish. Teachers
    should consistently base activities
    and events on children’s current
    interests and individual needs
    rather than rely on curriculum
    plans that are developed and
    reused year after year (Grisham-
    Brown et al., 2005). During the
    Light Fantastic project,
    Madison’s interest was not an
    isolated case.

    Projects facilitate the
    development of a child’s autonomy
    and independence. Children with
    special needs, like other children,

    feel successful when they are given
    learning opportunities that meet
    their developmental needs. When
    planning projects, educators and
    therapists should consider support
    strategies for including children
    with disabilities and their peers in
    the project. For example, educators
    of children with cerebral palsy
    should look at supports for writing
    tools or adaptive seating that
    allows the children to join in the
    work of the classroom. If a child is
    hearing impaired, the educator
    should work with the speech
    therapist to create or provide key
    picture vocabulary or signs for
    words used in the project. During
    the Light Fantastic project, picture
    vocabularies and signs included
    flashlight, light, in, and out. All the
    children in the classroom were

    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim


    Throughout the year, Ms. Leslie
    had observed and documented
    the children playing with the
    overhead projector, with
    sunlight, with shadows, and
    with the room lights. Their
    curiosity about light held many
    possibilities, which could
    become a project for this
    community of learners. In
    thinking more about the
    children’s interest in light and
    the documentation already
    generated by it, the teacher
    wondered during the initial
    phases of this project whether
    the children’s fascination with
    light would be an interesting
    investigation for all the children
    in her inclusive classroom.

    Ms. Leslie’s initial assumptions
    included that to interact with
    light, a child does not have to
    communicate verbally. By using
    flashlights, a less mobile child
    could still participate and keep up
    with the action. Peer relationships
    could emerge with a friend
    across the room, in carrying on
    a silent dialogue using the
    flashlight, for example, the
    beams of light, to communicate
    playfully with each other.
    Children in wheelchairs would
    not be excluded in this type of
    play. Light could be explored in
    endless ways and could provoke
    an out-of-the ordinary or special
    sense of wonder in children and

    taught the signs so that peers could
    communicate with one another. For
    a child with vision impairments,
    staff and children must think out
    loud and be explicit in describing
    what is occurring. For a child with
    gross motor difficulties, teachers
    should encourage peers to help a
    child in a wheelchair or one using a
    walker, making sure the walker is
    near the child, motivating him or
    her to be part of or join in the
    work of the classroom.

    Through project work,
    children’s interests are nurtured
    and encouraged. Those with
    special needs are supported with
    projects, because learning is
    planned around the interest and
    functioning level of each child.
    Equally important to successful
    curriculum planning is ensuring
    that the nature of what is being
    studied is relevant to the children
    in the classroom (Bredekamp &
    Rosegrants, 1992).

    For the Light Fantastic project,
    using Madison’s interest as a
    catalyst, the teacher brought
    flashlights into the classroom for all
    the children. The classroom teachers
    observed and documented the
    children’s explorations with the
    flashlights. They remained engaged
    with the flashlights for an entire
    hour, an extraordinary duration.
    The teachers watched as the
    children used the flashlights to
    disguise their faces and to create
    monsters with shadows. In
    observing all this, the teachers
    realized that the children, while
    playing with the flashlights, went
    beyond the simple illumination that
    light provides and used their

    imaginations to play with light by
    exploring its other more fanciful
    aspects and potentials.

    The project approach moves
    each child forward on his or her
    individual developmental continuum
    (Helm & Beneke, 2003). Projects
    include an assortment of experiences
    and activities for young children,
    including identifying, labeling,
    categorizing, and classifying
    experiences and new discoveries in
    an effort to make sense of the

    Projects encourage

    exploration and sharing of new
    materials and

    ideas, and they allow

    opportunities for children to
    problem solve, generate ideas,
    reflect, estimate, hypothesize, and
    make predictions (Grisham-Brown
    et al., 2005). Because project work
    does not require that every child
    participate in every experience,
    individual abilities can be
    accommodated, and IEPs can be
    integrated. In addition, children
    with special needs are able to learn
    through the use of hands-on
    experiences based on real-life
    situations of interest to each child
    who enters the work of a project at
    his or her own level of
    understanding and progresses from
    that level. Furthermore, the project
    approach promotes the development
    of the whole child. Opportunities
    for learning can take place in the
    classroom for children with special
    needs when they share particular
    passions. Projects promote emergent
    development across all learning
    domains. Jones (1999) states that as
    knowledge increases, children begin
    to process and express learning
    through observations, drawings, and

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim

    YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN Vol. 11, No. 3, June 200832

    Projects encourage

    exploration and sharing

    of new materials and

    ideas, and they allow
    opportunities for children

    to problem solve, generate

    ideas, reflect, estimate,

    hypothesize, and make


    peer interactions. Children are
    motivated to learn.

    Collaboration in
    Project Work

    Collaborative work occurs
    throughout project implementation
    as children listen to one another and
    work together to achieve goals.
    Communicative skills develop when
    the children have something
    meaningful to communicate about—
    when they are taking an active role
    (Katz, 2002). The project approach
    naturally and organically provides
    opportunities for collaborative work
    in many different areas and invites
    the exercise of many skills and
    dispositions (Hyun, 2006). By
    working together, young children
    extend their respect for their peers
    and build a classroom community of
    learners. Projects offer emergent
    opportunities for ongoing, holistic,
    social–emotional early childhood
    curriculum practices (Booth, 1997).
    Children and teachers learn together
    in an accepting environment and are
    able to coconstruct knowledge
    within their social group. In
    addition, several learning and social
    advantages are available to children
    working in small groups (e.g., peer
    interactions, modeling of higher
    order thinking, developing
    friendships; Noonan & McCormick,
    1993). Collaborative theorists
    Forman and Fyfe (1998) stated that
    “knowledge is never verifiable
    through listening or by observation
    alone, but rather it gains clarity
    through a negotiated analysis of the
    communication process itself”
    (p. 2


    ). Children and teachers

    collaboratively navigate the winding
    path of investigation with questions
    and discoveries toward a deeper
    understanding of the aspects that
    engage children’s intellect and
    emotions. Cooperative learning
    offers a purposeful, meaningful, and
    authentic context in which all
    children can sharpen their
    communicative skills (Katz, 2002).

    As young children work
    together, doing tasks that are
    suitable to their skills and interests,
    children become familiar and
    comfortable with diversity. Cultural
    diversity goes well beyond what one
    might think it is; it is more than
    ethnicity, more than different
    languages, more than race. It
    originates in each and every one’s
    contemporary home culture,
    environment, and situation (Hyun,
    2006). Many new opportunities,
    therefore, emerge for children to
    work collaboratively by embracing
    their differences and celebrating
    with new voices. Both typically
    developing children and children
    with exceptionalities acquire a
    history of experiences that attest to
    interpersonal relationships among
    their peers as commonplace
    occurrences, contributing positively
    to their expectations and
    appropriate behavior in social
    situations. They become
    comfortable in their friendships with
    diverse others (Allen & Schwartz,
    2001). The project approach
    provides a natural context for this
    spirit of community. Introducing
    project work into early childhood
    education results in the development
    of a “community ethos” (Katz &
    Chard, 2000). Projects allow for
    meaningful, hands-on learning

    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim


    In observing the shift in the
    direction of the children’s
    curiosity toward the fantasy and
    playfulness of light during the
    Light Fantastic project, Ms.
    Leslie reintroduces the overhead
    projector to the children, placing
    it on the floor so access is easier
    for all. Open for new
    possibilities, the children now
    begin fresh explorations with the
    projector. Placing various
    classroom materials onto the
    overhead projector, the children
    suddenly discover materials that
    are transparent. This discovery
    completely captures their interest
    and deepens their thinking about
    the playfulness of light. Having
    exhausted the classroom of
    materials, the children bring new
    materials from home, reigniting
    their fascination and excitement
    as the materials from home add
    different dimensions to their
    exploration of light; for

    example, a child places a clear
    plastic cup on the overhead and
    projects it onto the wall. Using
    their imaginations, they climb
    into the projected image of the
    cup on the wall. They are
    excited to fit six preschoolers
    into the projected image of a
    cup. In this play or dance
    between the children and light
    they have created a new game
    possible only by taking
    advantage of the unique qualities
    of light, which they have
    discovered for themselves. The
    influx of new materials captures
    the interest of passive children
    who now join in the discoveries
    made in the light fantasies. One
    child, who was dually diagnosed
    with autism and Down
    syndrome, becomes entranced by
    a wall of projected polka dots
    and soon joins her peers to play,
    to wonder, and to move among
    the dots shining on the wall.

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim

    YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN Vol. 11, No. 3, June 200834

    Promoting Learning
    Through Small-Group

    Children learn best in small
    groups, where the individualized
    attention is particularly important
    for the child with special needs.
    Work in small groups facilitates
    opportunities for children with
    disabilities to take leadership roles
    (Edmiaston & Fitzgerald, 2000).
    Small groups increase the likelihood
    that the child will enjoy the process
    and feel motivated to learn (Palsha,
    2002). In project work, young
    children with special needs have
    opportunities to cooperate with a
    variety of peers and teachers in
    small groups. In the Light Fantastic
    project, the children expanded and
    built on their thinking by using the
    overhead projector as a tool to
    support and create scenes and
    stories from the transparent
    materials they had gathered from
    the classroom and from home.
    Artwork and materials were
    reinvented through the introduction
    of “lightscapes” created with the
    overhead projector from the found
    materials. Children involved in
    project work are encouraged to
    serve the group’s needs and share
    responsibility for what is
    accomplished (Katz, 2002). This
    type of social communication can
    lead to meaningful discussions,
    collaborative problem solving, and
    productive resolutions for cognitive
    conflicts that regularly occur during
    the learning process.

    Teachers can encourage peer-
    mediated interventions through peer
    modeling and peer prompting so
    that typically developing children

    are able to model concepts under
    investigation for children with special
    needs. Children are encouraged,
    therefore, to (a) participate in small-
    group discussions, (b) engage as
    active members of a small group by
    supporting the investigation, and
    (c) promote thinking by supporting
    their investigation of a high-interest
    topic. Together, members of a small
    group ask questions, observe one
    another, and have opportunities to
    represent their learning. Teachers
    thus encourage children with special
    needs to become involved in the life
    of the classroom instead of acting
    merely as bystanders. Teachers can
    take advantage of this by
    encouraging children with more
    experience to help less experienced
    children (Katz, 2002). When
    children with special needs are
    included in a small group, everyone
    belongs. Along with what they
    learn, children are practicing how to
    learn in situations tailored to their
    abilities and sustained by the
    synergy of purposeful inquiry (Vakil
    et al., 2003).

    Young children with special
    needs working on projects are given
    opportunities to experience
    relationships and positive feelings.
    These opportunities include a sense
    of (a) belonging to a small group
    engaged in purposeful learning,
    (b) acceptance in making meaningful
    contributions as class members, and
    (c) esteem in developing new
    academic skills. These positive
    feelings help nurture children’s
    confidence in their intellectual
    abilities as they develop the
    disposition to become lifelong
    learners (Katz & Chard, 2000).
    Imagine how a child responds to the
    adults who offer him or her new

    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim


    possibilities. Typically developing
    children understand that we can
    integrate children with special needs
    into the classroom context and give
    them opportunities to maximize
    their capabilities. So even if a
    particular child is, for example,
    immobile, he or she is part of the
    group (Kaminsky, 1997).

    Documentation and the
    Project Approach

    Teachers in an effective inclusive
    project-oriented early childhood
    program must collect data.
    Monitoring children’s progress is an
    essential feature of quality early
    childhood education programs
    (McAfee & Leong, 2002; Wolery,
    2003). When teachers of young
    children in inclusive preschool
    classrooms apply ongoing and
    engaging documentation, they are
    able to individualize curriculum to
    meet the unique needs of each child.
    Engaging documentation captures

    a child’s interests, passions, and
    curiosity for learning. When
    engaged, the child’s mind is in a
    state that is ready to move in the
    continued pursuit of an interest
    (Clark, 2000). Without the
    establishment and use of valid and
    reliable data collection procedures,
    providers will not have adequate
    information on which to judge
    whether the child’s participation in
    a variety of activities has produced
    the desired effect or outcome (Pretti-
    Frontczak & Bricker, 2004).
    Authentic assessment and
    documentation for children with
    special needs allow for reflection of
    children’s learning and development
    in multiple forms, thus honoring
    and supporting children’s multiple
    ways of understanding.
    Documentation may take many
    forms, such as anecdotal records
    collected during observations of
    children playing throughout the day;
    samples of children’s work, for
    example, their art or writing; and
    pictures. Documentation may entail
    written language transcriptions,
    audiotapes, photographs,
    videotapes, video prints, overhead
    transparencies, and children’s
    productions. These materials can be
    organized on documentation panels
    and posted in the classroom
    (Trepanier-Street, 2000). Table 1
    provides examples of how
    documentation serves many
    purposes throughout a project.

    Documenting children’s learning
    is arguably one of the most valuable
    skills a teacher can acquire. Thus,
    documentation should be used as a
    tool for approaching work as
    reflective practitioners (Vakil et al.,
    2003). When teachers carefully
    collect, analyze, interpret, and
    display evidence of learning, they

    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim

    YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN Vol. 11, No. 3, June 200836

    Vol. 11, No. 3, June 2008 YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN
    The Light Fantastic / Harris, Gleim


    are better able to understand how
    children learn and to help others
    recognize that learning (Helm,
    Beneke, & Steinheimer, 1997).
    Table 2 provides benefits to teachers
    for using documentation throughout
    a project.

    In the Light Fantastic project,
    Ms. Leslie, reflecting on the
    documentation of the children’s
    work up to this point, felt that it
    was time for a new provocation, one
    that would offer a contrast to their
    work with the transparent


    The Light Fantastic project
    brought the classroom community
    together in unexpected ways and led
    the children to many provocations,
    theories, questions, and discoveries.
    What began as a casual observation
    of Madison’s flashlight play led to a
    2-month project that challenged and
    included all members of the
    classroom community. The light

    New tools were brought in to
    support their work with
    shadows; a sheet was suspended
    from the ceiling, and a spotlight
    on the floor provided a light
    source to make shadows. Using
    these new tools, the children
    created shadow dances, shadow
    monsters, and “shadowscapes.”
    Shadows presented new
    questions and added new
    dimensions to the children’s
    work and thinking. Their work
    with shadows challenged them to

    consider how using their bodies
    and movement could change the
    way the shadows appeared. They
    made shadows interact with
    other shadows to create new
    shapes and new shadows. The
    children used everyday objects to
    cast shadows, which created
    amazing illusions for the children
    to explore. Their work with
    shadows pointed them in new
    directions and toward new
    thoughts in their investigations
    with light.

    Table 1
    Documentation Serves Many Purposes Throughout a Project

    • Documentation helps make all children aware of their thinking and learning.
    • Documentation serves as history for the entire project once it is complete.
    • Transcriptions of young children’s conversations, photographs of their activities, and

    representations of their thinking and learning using a variety of materials are carefully
    studied by thoughtful teachers throughout the project process.

    • Documentation allows a teacher to share a child’s learning and show which goals were
    accomplished during a project.

    • Documentation provides the interpretation of observation that forms the basis for revisiting
    experiences, because learning is not a linear process. Documentation informs parents and
    makes them aware of their children’s experiences in the classroom.

    Table 2
    Benefits of Documentation for the Teacher

    • Documentation allows teachers to understand their children, engage in imaginative
    planning, and evaluate their process.

    • Documentation serves as a reflective tool for teachers to trace each child’s history with an
    individual project and the manner in which the partnership between child, parent, and
    teacher enhances growth and development for a young child with special needs.

    • Documentation facilitates communication for small groups and shows children that their
    efforts are highly regarded and valued.

    • Documentation is a way of conducting ongoing authentic assessment. Project documentation
    is often a more reliable indicator of what children are capable of doing than standardized
    tests, because the high motivation associated with project work results in greater and more
    purposeful use of their knowledge and skills than tests do (Helm & Katz, 2001).

    • Documentation allows the child to revisit his or her thinking (G. Forman, personal
    communication, May 30, 2003).

    You may reach Kathleen I. Harris by e-mail at


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    Educational Action Research

    ISSN: 0965-0792 (Print) 1747-5074 (Online) Journal homepage:

    ‘Someone had to have faith in them as
    professionals’: an evaluation of an action research
    project to develop educational leadership across
    the early years

    Linda Henderson

    To cite this article: Linda Henderson (2017) ‘Someone had to have faith in them as professionals’:
    an evaluation of an action research project to develop educational leadership across the early
    years, Educational Action Research, 25:3, 387-401, DOI: 10.1080/09650792.2016.1173566

    To link to this article:

    Published online: 03 May 2016.

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    Educational action REsEaRch, 2017
    Vol. 25, no. 3, 387–401

    ‘Someone had to have faith in them as professionals’:
    an evaluation of an action research project to develop
    educational leadership across the early years

    Linda Henderson

    Faculty of Education, Monash university, Melbourne, Vic, australia

    This article reports on an evaluation of three action research projects
    developed by a group of teachers working across the early years in
    three independent schools. The article examines the role of action
    research in developing educational leadership capabilities. Drawing
    on the educational leadership literature, concepts and ideas of action
    and activism, influence and change, and capacity to develop a vision
    are used to describe and analyse the data from qualitative pre-project
    and post-project individual interviews. The article argues that the
    empirical findings suggest action research was a powerful tool in
    developing educational leadership capabilities. This article concludes
    by suggesting that further research is needed to better understand
    how action research can be utilised to develop sustainable forms of
    educational leadership in the early years.

  • Introduction
  • Rapid changes in Australian early childhood education and care have seen notions of edu-
    cational leadership positioned as key to the quality of early years1 education. This article
    reports on an evaluation of three action research projects embedded within a professional
    development programme designed to foster educational leadership for teachers working
    across the early years in three independent schools2 in Victoria, Australia. The professional
    development programme was designed and implemented by Independent Schools, Victoria
    (ISV),3 specifically for teachers working in its member schools. ISV’s primary aim in targeting
    educational leadership was based on an awareness of a need to enhance learning oppor-
    tunities for early years students as they transitioned from Early Learning Centres (ELCs)4 into

    In the context of this article, it is important to note that ELCs in Australian independent
    schools are owned and managed by the respective school. The school is fully responsible
    for the employment of teachers in its ELC. This places them in a unique position because
    whilst there are pre-school programmes and centres co-located with government schools,
    they are still managed independently from the school. An ELC of an independent school is

    © 2016 Educational action Research

    Early years; educational
    leadership; action research;
    teacher professional

    Received 10 september 2015
    accepted 29 March 2016

    CONTACT linda henderson

    388 L. HEnDERSon

    an integral part of the school and parents enrol their child into the school in order to attend
    the ELC. A key point here is that the ELC operates within the school’s overarching philosophy
    and curriculum and the teachers of the ELC are staff members of the school. Unique oppor-
    tunities can be created for teachers to genuinely work together who may otherwise not
    have such unique opportunities if working in the government sector. To explain, in Australia
    the early years is separated into three systems: childcare (birth to five years); pre-school
    education (three to five years); and school education (primary, five to 12 years; and secondary,
    12–18 years). This separation is well written about in the literature, particularly in relation to
    school transition processes (see Moss 2013). So whilst there is a wealth of research on school
    transition (for example, Dockett, Petriwskyj, and Perry 2014) as well as a growing body of
    research on the use of action research to enhance transition processes (for example, Hartley
    et al. 2012), the opportunity for teachers to work together without the need to navigate
    separate systems is unique.

    With this contextual background, the article begins by outlining the literature examining
    the concept of ‘educational leader’ in the early years. The article provides contextual detail
    of the evaluation, including outlining the action research methodology introduced to the
    teachers and providing a description of the three action research projects undertaken by
    each group of teachers in their respective schools. A description of the evaluation undertaken
    is then provided, including data collection and analysis processes. A detailed discussion of
    the findings from the evaluation is then presented. The article concludes by arguing that
    action research has considerable power as a strategy for fostering educational leadership
    practices in early years education.

  • Educational leadership in the Australian early years context
  • The notion of leadership is not new in the Australian early years context. Early childhood
    contexts have always been managed and led by ‘leaders’. What is new is the manner in which
    notions of ‘leadership’ have been introduced into Australia’s early years policy context. To
    explain, in 2009 the national Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and School
    Aged Care (Council of Australian Governments 2009) outlined that every early childhood
    centre would have a designated ‘pedagogical leader’ whose primary role was to foster the
    development of other staff in order to enhance programme quality. This was later substituted
    for the term ‘educational leader’ in Section 118 of the Education and Care Services national
    Regulations, which states:

    The approved provider of an education and care service must designate, in writing, a suitably
    qualified and experienced educator, co-ordinator or other individual as educational leader at the
    service to lead the development and implementation of educational programs in the service.
    (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs 2011, 133)

    Apart from outlining that the educational leader will ‘lead’ the ‘development and implemen-
    tation of educational programs’, this statement fails to fully define the term ‘educational

    Research on leadership in early childhood education and care identifies that the terms
    ‘pedagogical leader’ and ‘educational leader’ are new, and lack clear understandings
    (Stamopoulos 2012). Thomas and nuttall (2014) argue this is due to policy failing to provide
    clear descriptions of what is required by educational leaders outside of what has predomi-
    nantly been understood as concerning managing centre processes and staff. Their assertion


    is that, in policy, the term ‘educational leader’ largely ‘reflects relational notions of leadership’
    (2014, 103; original emphasis). Based on this assertion, they argue, enactments of educational
    leadership have to be grounded in understandings of leadership as being ‘primarily distrib-
    uted and networked’ (Thomas and nuttall 2014, 104). Stamopoulos’s (2012) work aligns with
    Thomas and nuttall’s (2014) assertion. She argues that current policy is demanding early
    years teachers to take up forms of leadership that foster teachers’ abilities to ‘reflect on …
    professional practice, focus on curriculum decision-making, teaching and learning processes
    and recognises the importance of nurturing relationships that promote children’s learning’
    (2012, 43). In effect, this means there are requirements for all early years teachers to ‘take on
    leadership roles and make key decisions about educational practice’ (2012, 42–43).

    Requiring early years teachers to take on leadership roles, which asks them to lead cur-
    riculum programming and staff professional development, reflects a significant shift in early
    childhood education and care (Thornton et al. 2009). The shift is one of moving from notions
    of leadership framed around ideas of ‘managing’, to new forms of leadership that are rela-
    tional and distributed (Hard and Gorman 2007). Woodrow (2008) insists this shift places new
    demands on early years teachers, arguing that the demand arises from a requirement to
    have capacity to develop a vision for the field. She further states that effective leadership
    requires early years teachers to orientate themselves towards action and activism (Woodrow
    and Busch 2008) and engage in processes of ‘regenerating democracy, community-building
    and community transformation’ (Woodrow 2011, 42). In sum, this is a significant shift from
    traditional notions of leadership closely aligned with notions of management.

    To ‘lead’ others in processes of vision development for the field, as advocated by Woodrow
    (2008), is not just about being able to relate to others to bring about change, but is intricately
    connected to one’s own sense of professional identity (Woodrow 2007, o’Gorman and Hard
    2013). To support this type of leadership, Sumsion et al. (2009) argue, notions of educational
    leadership must be concerned with sharing responsibility and empowering early years teach-
    ers to make key decisions to bring about change. Waniganayake and Semann (2011, 24)
    stress that this requires the development of a deeply ethical responsibility that is both indi-
    vidual and collective, and only then can early years teachers engage in journeys of ‘joint
    inquiry, exploration and reflection’ to bring about change. In summary, this highlights the
    importance of educational leadership needing to develop through cyclical processes of
    learning, acting and reflecting, which are consistent with action research.

  • An evaluation of three action research projects
  • As noted in the Introduction, the nature of independent schools in Australia means that
    teachers across the early years and school years have unique opportunities to work together
    as colleagues and staff in one school. In effect, this means leadership opportunities are
    considerable for the ELC teachers to work alongside their primary teacher colleagues who
    are teaching in the lower primary area.

    This article reports on the evaluation of three action research projects undertaken by
    three of the schools involved in the professional development programme through ISV.
    However, action research was one aspect of the professional development programme and
    the only aspect that was evaluated by the author. The rationale for the overall professional
    development programme was based on a discussion paper published by Association of
    Independent Schools South Australia (2009). The paper argued that independent schools

    390 L. HEnDERSon

    were strategically positioned to foster and nurture leadership across the early years due to
    the unique location of ELCs in their member schools. In particular, genuine opportunities
    for sharing of information and pedagogical approaches between the ELC and the school
    can be made possible. The assertion here is that ‘consistency in approach[es]’ can be devel-
    oped as students transition from the ELC and into the school (Association of Independent
    Schools South Australia 2009, 3). Furthermore, because the ELC is a part of the school, both
    the ELC and lower primary school teachers can ‘plan and work together … discuss and
    implement learning programs… develop assessment and reporting processes that inform
    curriculum development’ (Association of Independent Schools South Australia 2009, 4). ISV
    had recognised that this type of work required leadership skills if it was to be fully

    Seven schools participated in the professional development programme and included
    teachers from the ELC and lower primary area of each of the seven schools. School leadership
    were also involved in the programme, because it was vital that teachers received support
    from school leadership for any innovation they planned within their respective schools. ISV
    developed the programme around four distinct stages, as outlined in Table 1.

    Action research was introduced to the teachers during the initial workshops and included
    being introduced to the body of work on learning communities and communities of practice
    (for example, Wenger 1998). Grounding their work in this substantial body of research (for
    example, DuFour et al. 2008) demonstrated to the teachers the powerful effects of profes-
    sional learning communities in generating leadership capabilities in line with notions of
    leadership within the early years. The work of Altrichter and Posch (2009) was also highlighted
    to illustrate the cyclical nature of professional learning, professional action and, in turn,
    professional reflection and further professional action. The action research cycle was outlined
    drawing on the work of Mcniff and Whitehead (2006), as well as Mac naughton and Hughes’s
    (2009) writings on action research within early years. A diagram illustrating the cyclical nature
    of action research was introduced allowing the teachers to commence the process of devel-
    oping school-based action research projects (see Figure 1).

    Table 1. overview of professional development programme.
    stage one: Generative stage three workshops spread over three consecutive days. Facilitators to lead

    workshops with the content of each workshop designed to allow school
    teams to explore pedagogical leadership and work on developing an
    agreed pedagogy for children in the age group from birth to eight years.
    a further one-day workshop with school leadership and teachers to
    follow the three consecutive days with the aim of engaging leadership in
    the anticipated innovation and to make any transformation practical and
    viable within respective schools.

    stage two: action research stage after the four days of facilitation and dialogue a supported six-month
    period of action research in the school context. isV support staff to work
    with participating member schools to enact their vision and to document
    the outcomes.

    stage three: Reflection stage Following the six-month action research period a two-day workshop to be
    conducted with the aim of school teams sharing their action research
    project and its outcomes and debriefing what did and did not happen.
    school leadership to participate for half a day on the second day with the
    aim of discussing their understandings of what the action research
    project achieved and to discuss ways to continue the work commenced.

    stage four: analysis and reporting stage isV undertakes an analysis of each action research project and writes a
    report for isV executive. the report to provide recommendations for the
    programme’s continuation.


    Evaluation of the action research projects was a key part of the process. The author of the
    article was contracted to undertake this evaluation. The author first sought ethics approval
    from her university’s Human Research Ethics Committee. once approved, the author attended
    the introductory workshop to outline the evaluation process and provide teachers with the
    opportunity to participate. Explanatory letters and consent forms were made available. It
    was made clear that participation in the evaluation process was optional, and therefore
    would not influence their position within the professional development programme.
    Teachers were able to sign consent forms in their own time and return to the author using
    the stamped envelopes provided. Three schools consented to participate in the evaluation
    process. The following is a description of each school’s action research project.

    School 1

    School 1 was a large co-educational independent school with multiple campuses. The teach-
    ers for this project were located at the junior campus educating children three to 10 years
    of age. In total there were seven teachers involved: four teachers from the ELC and three
    teachers from Prep to Year 2. The leadership team consisted of the Director of Curriculum.
    Their action research project commenced as an investigation into current pedagogical prac-
    tices inhibiting a flow of learning as students moved from the ELC into the school. Following
    identification of these practices, they set up an online platform within the school’s intranet
    for the purpose of creating a space for dialogue about these practices. The idea was that
    they would trial practices; use the online space to reflect on their use of these practices, with
    the aim of generating new understandings about ways to enhance learning across the early

    Figure 1. action research cycle.

    392 L. HEnDERSon

    years. Finally, they planned on presenting a summary of their ‘findings’ to all staff at a school

    School 2

    School 2 was a single-sex independent school located on one campus. In total, there were
    six teachers involved: four teachers from the ELC, one teacher from Prep and the Director of
    Curriculum. The leadership team consisted of the Director of Curriculum and the Head of
    Junior School. Their action research project commenced as an investigation into forms of
    shared pedagogical practices across the ELC and Prep to Year 2. The action planned to achieve
    this purpose included: visiting peer’s classrooms, making time for shared planning meetings,
    and discussing findings and implications for transition processes. This was in contrast to
    current practices for this school where the ELC planned separately from the teachers in the
    lower primary area of the school. As the Director of Curriculum was also involved, there were
    plans to document the process as it unfolded to share at the end of the school year when
    teachers from across the whole school showcased professional learning for the year.

    School 3

    School 3 was a single-sex independent school located on one campus. In total there were
    five teachers involved: three teachers from the ELC and two teachers from Prep to Year 1.
    The leadership consisted of the Director of Curriculum and the Head of Junior School. Their
    action research project set out to examine two key curriculum documents: the Early Years
    Learning Framework (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and
    Workplace Relations 2009); and AusVELS (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
    2014). The Early Years Learning Framework is the curriculum framework for all early years
    services across Australia. AusVELS is Victoria’s curriculum framework for the school years
    from Prep to Year 10. Because early years is from birth to eight years they saw potential for
    the Early Years Learning Framework to be used alongside AusVELS in the school years Prep
    to Year 2 to enhance learning for students as they transition from the ELC and into Prep. The
    teachers’ aimed to identify commonalities across the two documents and then develop their
    own working curriculum document to be used across the early years.

  • Action research evaluation and data analysis
  • Evaluation of the action research project was achieved through the use of individual inter-
    views with all teachers involved in the three schools. Interviews were undertaken both pre
    and post the action research project. Interviews were approximately one hour long and were
    conducted by the author in each teacher’s school. Following Maxwell (2005), the interviews
    were interactive and conversational in style. In keeping with the ethics approval for the
    project, the interviews were transcribed verbatim and copies of transcripts were provided
    to the teachers for checking.

    Analysis of data was approached from two separate angles. Using data templates (Crabtree
    and Miller 1999), initial manual open data reduction was conducted according to a priori
    concepts of educational leadership, resulting in categories such as ‘action’, ‘activism’ and
    ‘change’. Parallel coding was also undertaken in response to spontaneous or unexpected


    topics in participants’ talk, resulting in categories such as ‘identity’, ‘influence’, ‘relationships’
    and ‘time’. Following this dual approach, data in each category were examined allowing for
    the identification of key events and commonalities across the data-sets. This process was
    key to the interpretation of the accounts of practice and identifying outcomes arising from
    the action research, as well as outcomes that could not be directly contributed to action
    research. I present the findings under the headings ‘

  • Building relationships and time
  • ’ and

  • Influencing others and shifting identities
  • ’. Before presenting the empirical evidence of these
    categories in the data, a description of each school’s action research project is provided.

    Building relationships and time

    Having time to engage in relational work was a recurring category across the interviews for
    all three schools. one participant described this relational work as follows:

    We needed to create better relationships between the staff. That was big. As I said in the first
    interview we didn’t even come into the staffroom … so for us building relationships was one
    of the big things. And that has changed in a positive way. There seems to be more of a mutual
    respect maybe. More friendships have been built because of spending time with the action
    research. We have actually built relationships with these teachers who we actually didn’t know.
    So I guess by giving us time together it has made us do this important work. (Post interview,
    ELC teacher, School 1)

    For this teacher, relational work has played a central role in any subsequent outcomes for
    their action research project. But she also noted the importance of time to do this relational
    work. Time allowed them to come together and engage in professional conversations. It
    allowed them to develop ‘mutual respect’. There is acknowledgement that the action research
    project created this time – time that may not have otherwise been available. What this
    identifies is how the relational work was shaping and developing a learning culture, for there
    has been purpose behind the relational work. The teacher identifies and names this as ‘impor-
    tant work’. In contrast, this teacher made reference to clear divisions existing prior to this
    work in her pre interview when she was asked about the opportunities she had as a teacher
    of the ELC to work with her lower primary colleagues. She stated:

    we are quite separate. And that sort of is even with the staffroom. We don’t share the same
    staffroom as the school teachers. Its quite separate … there isn’t that sort of conversation hap-
    pening, ‘we are doing this’, there isn’t a flow of ideas from the ELC and into the lower primary
    areas. (Pre interview, ELC teacher, School 1)

    Identifying this division, and contrasting it with the post-interview data, highlights a definite
    shift in relationships. The action research project has had an impact, and time has been a
    critical factor. Because of the action research project the divisions had to be overcome. Time
    had to be established to come together in ways that previously had not been made possible.
    As a consequence, a shift in relationships occurred. This confers with research arguing that
    educational leadership must be understood as relational and distributed, and thus time is
    a key factor in its development (Thomas and nuttall 2014). As Thornton (2009) explains, it
    not just time that must be identified and protected, but it must be time for intensive learning.
    noting that intensive learning occurs when there is dedicated time, she asserts that this
    allows teachers to share knowledge and identify issues and plan subsequent action. Without
    dedicated time, she argues, learning cannot occur. Therefore, based on this participant’s
    interview data, the action research project has been a key motivator in creating this type of
    dedicated time for the type of learning Thornton (2009) is advocating.

    394 L. HEnDERSon

    Remaining with this notion of intensive learning and the importance of time, the data
    across all three schools confirmed that this type of learning was responsible for change. one
    teacher from School 3 described this process of learning as follows:

    As you know our brief was to look at play-based learning and the two curriculum documents
    with a view to changing our practices. As a team we all had varying viewpoints and we just all
    seemed to be on a different page. But as time progressed and we spent time together we sort
    of developed a kind of leadership across the team. We really started discussing ideas rather than
    just telling each other. We built connections with each other that we hadn’t before and I think
    this allowed us to move forward. I think we have got this to start working now. Its changing us
    and how we work together. (Post interview, Prep teacher, School 3)

    This teacher referred to the learning as a kind of ‘leadership’. She expanded on this by explain-
    ing it as a process of ‘building connections’, which allowed them to ‘move forward’ as a team.
    She notes the importance of ideas being discussed, refined and developed, with the intent
    purpose of moving their practice ‘forward’. More importantly, she contrasts this with previous
    discussions where viewpoints were being positioned as points of difference. The process of
    moving from points of difference to engaging in genuine dialogue requires both a change
    in culture and understandings. In particular, a shared vision for what they want to achieve
    from this project has been developed. Importantly, development of a vision has been linked
    closely with the qualities of educational leadership in the early years (Woodrow 2008).

    Having a vision for the early years may be a key quality of educational leadership; however,
    to do this in isolation of a school or centre would be limiting. Analysis of the post-interview
    data identified that the professional development workshops played a key role in the success
    of the school-based action research projects. Teachers across the three schools all reported
    on the benefits of networking with other schools:

    Relationship building and learning about different schools and about their approaches and
    where they were coming from and where they planned to go. And just interacting with them on
    an individual level. In the workshops we had a lot of time to interact across schools, which was
    very interesting. Because other people’s ideas often spark your own thinking. (Post interview,
    Year 1 teacher, School 1)

    Coming together allowed for forms of thinking and learning that were generative, as indi-
    cated by the reference to the ‘sparking’ of ideas and further thinking. Many of the teachers
    in their post interview reported on the benefits of meeting and discussing ideas with teachers
    from other schools, and how this permitted new ideas and thinking to enter into their own
    action research projects. Another teacher captured this succinctly when she reported on
    how their action research project benefited from the workshops:

    This action research project has been really important. It think it has allowed us to make connec-
    tions we never would have made. Relationships with other teachers. To see other teachers and
    talk with them about their challenges and to see that they have the same challenges. Having
    everyone on board taking about these challenges and coming up with new ideas. It was really
    powerful way of learning. It empowered us to go back to school and really work with my col-
    leagues to make changes. (Post interview, Prep teacher, School 2)

    Another teacher echoed similar thoughts:
    I think we are doing things differently now. And I think we will continue to get better at it. I
    think we have a long way to go but we have started the journey. This action research project
    has allowed us to come together, to learn with each other, but also with the other schools. Being
    part of this project has been a major impetus to keep going despite the challenges. I think it is
    really powerful stuff. (Post interview, ELC Teacher, School 3)


    In both of these quotes there is a strong sense of change because of the action research
    projects. Critical to this change has been the relational work and the importance of time to
    do this work, including attending the workshops at ISV to engage in networking with other

    Challenges to time did arise and impacted on the relational work. Prior to commencing
    the action research projects, many of the teachers acknowledged that the goals established
    were dependent on support from school leadership. one teacher saw this as a need for
    school leadership to support their release of time in order to work together, to develop a
    vision of curriculum alignment across the early years and align this vision with the overall
    school philosophy and current priorities:

    I think there will be different views in terms of what we really want to get out of our action
    research project. So having the leadership give us time to allow us to mull ideas over and listen
    to each other will be vital. Because the vision we develop for early years has to marry with the
    school’s vision. (Pre interview, Year 1 teacher, School 3)

    There is a strong sense of the ‘whole school’ here, and the requirement to ‘marry’ any vision
    for early years with the ‘school’s vision’. The teacher identifies the challenge and acknowl-
    edges the importance of time if the goal is to be achieved. Another teacher referred to these
    same challenges, and acknowledged the complex inter-play between goals and ambitions
    for the group and the need to be cognisant of how their project fitted with school leaderships’
    vision. What this teacher identified was how differing priorities could impact on the outcome
    of the action research project, because, as she noted, without clear understandings between
    the teachers and school leadership, time became an impeding factor:

    The problem is we haven’t really been given any time here so we said to leadership ‘if you want
    to honour this and value it you have to build this into the PD so we can have time. We told them
    we had already had two forty-five minutes meetings that we have done in our own time and
    if they honour this work that we have done so far we have to have time. (Post interview, ELC
    teacher, School 1)

    With no time to do their action research project, this teacher understands that any goals
    established will be impeded. She speaks to school leadership about this, stressing the impor-
    tance of the work they were seeking to do. She is orientated toward action and activism in
    her speaking out, showing qualities of educational leadership as advocated by Woodrow
    (2008). But there is also frustration as she engages with the tensions between the group’s
    vision and the school’s vision. Yet, as she went on to explain, the frustrations did not impede
    their work. Rather, she communicated a sense of agency in terms of how the limited time
    enabled them to be clear and focused when they did meet:

    In our two meetings we set up protocols for listening to each other’s ideas. When I speak, my
    opinion will be listened to and engaged with by the others. We deliberately set that up. It set
    up openness to change amongst us, and this I believe was important to our sense of coming
    together as a team. Before we never worked like this and we sort of were just individuals doing
    our own things. But now we can work together, build relationships with each other. This has been
    huge for it has had huge effects on how we come across in the school. Like we actually can say
    what we think, have an opinion out in the school. We are not just the ‘Early Years Teachers’. We
    can be a part of the whole school and create change. I’ve been empowered that we can make
    change if we work together and believe in what it is that we are doing as a team. It might take
    time but it is possible. (Post interview, ELC teacher, School 1)

    The teachers can recognise and articulate the changes that have resulted from their work
    together. These changes are because of the deliberate decisions made by the group in terms

    396 L. HEnDERSon

    of how to structure their limited time. It has not been easy work; rather, it required collective
    decision-making and a willingness to engage. Traditionally, tensions have, and continue to,
    exist in the early years–school relationship (Henderson 2014a). The willingness for these
    teachers to engage in this type of deliberate work is notable, for they are working across the
    early childhood–school border (Moss 2013), which has been described elsewhere as an
    invisible barrier for teachers of an ELC in an independent school (Henderson 2014b).
    Therefore, this deliberate relational work cannot be underestimated. Rather, when viewed
    through the reference to sensing a change in positioning within the school, it is possible to
    argue there has been a shift in identities. They are a ‘team’ working across the early years,
    ‘empowered’ to make change.

    Influencing others and shifting identities

    Taking up relational forms of educational leadership is hard work. It brings about shifts in
    professional identities, as noted in the previous section. one teacher captured this shift when
    speaking about her positioning within the group. To explain, she was the only teacher from
    the Prep-2 area of the school working with four teachers from the ELC plus school leadership.
    In her explanation she outlined how she felt; ‘it was quite clear the ELC felt the P-2 do not
    do any play-based learning’. In saying this, she was trying to convey to her ELC colleagues
    that it ‘just looks different’ in Prep-2 compared with the ELC. She went on to explain:

    After the first few meetings I started thinking well maybe I don’t. I found it really challenging. I
    started questioning everything I do as a teacher. And one of the teachers was really strong in
    her ideas. But deep down I knew that I was doing it and I finally said, well this is what I am doing.
    And she said, well that’s really refreshing as I didn’t know as there is no evidence of it in your
    room. I said to her, no, because unlike the ELC I have to pack everything away, and when you
    come, all you see is my packed up room. But you have to come and see my classroom in action.
    So its been incredibly challenging but towards the end we did agree. I did end up saying like I
    felt like I have been on an incredible journey as I have had to find where I fit within this space
    and to feel like I can belong and be respected and valued. Have my ideas heard and respected
    but also to make connections that allowed us to change and move forward both as a team but
    also as a school. (Post interview. Year 1 teacher, School 2)

    There is a deep sense of questioning here in relation to core pedagogical decisions this
    teacher makes on a daily basis. She has examined her own practice in order to speak back
    into this space, whilst negotiating her identity as a Year 1 teacher. This is in keeping with the
    literature arguing that identity work is an intricate aspect of professional learning (cf. Connelly
    and Clandinin 1999; Zembylas 2005; Mockler 2011). Stamopoulos argues that this identity
    work includes teachers learning how to think in alternative ways, whilst also ‘reconstruct[ing]
    or reshap[ing] who they are, what they stand for and what they want to achieve’ (2012, 45).
    Without engaging in this identity work, it is impossible to re-examine current practices in
    order to generate new knowledge and bring about change. Therefore, key to this identity
    work is the need to be able to relate to others, even during challenging times, in order to
    influence each other and contribute to the change process. This came through strongly in
    this teacher’s post interview, because she persisted despite the challenges she faced, and
    through this influenced the change processes:

    The conversations have been challenging but they have been critical. And I must admit I was
    like a wave. Some days I went away thinking, oh yes, I’m doing it. And some days I went away
    going, no this isn’t right. Some days we had discussions about play versus inquiry and we really


    struggled with that concept. But after some time we realised that we were both on the same
    page but just different also. So we were seeing that were there different ways of saying the same
    thing. And what’s been the really positive thing has definitely been the connection that we have
    made but also the changes in how we see each other … But also that because we have been
    able to work through these challenges we have also been able to come together as a team and
    speak back to the leadership in terms of what we do in early years. It is more than just ‘play’. Its
    been really interesting, they were actually interested … So I feel as a team the leadership are
    listening. And just the other day, they asked us to present to the end of the year to the whole
    school. This is a big shift for the school. (Post interview, Year 1 teacher, School 2)

    Conveyed here is an understanding that educational leadership must be relational, but it
    also must be influential. There is acknowledgement of the fragility of this work in terms of
    shifts in identity. Critically, however, this teacher also acknowledges an ability to engage in
    sustained critical examination of practices despite the fragility, in order to form alliances
    within the team that have been critical in enabling them to influence not just each other,
    but also the school leadership. This is in keeping with Stamopoulos, who asserts that ‘[a]
    lliances formed on the basis of consensus and perceived advantage enable leaders to con-
    nect in diverse ways with others that provides greater resilience when faced with challenges’
    (2012, 46). The alliances this teacher refers to emerged from differences. They systematically
    embraced the differences because of the perceived benefits in terms of influencing school
    leadership, including coming to see multiple ways of understanding the one concept. I would
    argue that this adds a richness to the concept as evidenced when this teacher spoke about
    there being ‘different ways of saying the same thing’. In sum, there has been capacity-building
    arising from the struggles.

    How to build capacity that will enable teachers to perceive themselves as leaders in their
    field has been identified as a key challenge in the early years (Campbell-Evans, Stamopoulos,
    and Maloney 2014). In terms of the outcomes for the three schools, the data would suggest
    that the process of action research has played a key role in building capacity in ways which
    have enabled teachers to motivate and influence others. For example, one teacher explained
    it as a form of empowerment:

    I have been challenged definitely. My views and philosophies, even teaching practice was chal-
    lenged. But for me I have learnt that if change is to happen in the early years then we have to
    come together and empower each other in ways that allow us to engage in the rich discussions
    that we have. This is what has brought about the changes as we have been able to not only shift
    our own thinking, but also in terms of influencing each other to bring us together as a team.
    (Post interview, ELC teacher, School 1)

    Another teacher described it as learning to accept her own sense of worth as a teacher within
    the school:

    I had to actually acknowledge that what we were doing in the ELC was really sound play-based
    pedagogy. I have never felt valued like that before here. I think because I haven’t felt valued I
    put my own practice down. Didn’t value it so that has been a huge shift for me. Really, its been
    profound in my mind and I wouldn’t have been able to make this shift without all the discussions
    that we had as a team. Going from just being alone in my own practice to actually developing
    relationships across the team and drawing on each other to develop a vision for early years here.
    We just said the other day; we want to get the whole school on board. To see what it is that we
    do in early years and change the perception that we don’t really matter. Its been hard, but we
    have found the courage to do this. (Post interview, Prep teacher, School 3)

    Whilst the literature (Campbell-Evans, Stamopoulos, and Maloney 2014) points to a lack of
    opportunity and support for teachers to assume leadership roles within the field, what these

    398 L. HEnDERSon

    data illustrate is the purposeful learning that has occurred as a consequence of coming
    together to engage in action research. Furthermore, it has been powerful learning that has
    shifted identities resulting in teachers feeling empowered to influence change within the
    team and within the wider school. This was not just confirmed by the teachers at each school
    but also by school leadership in their interviews, as evidenced by the following

    The teachers now perceive themselves as leaders and this has impacted on their perceived
    status as Early Years teachers in the school. (Post interview, Director of Curriculum, School 3)

    There is now a clear articulation of a vision for early years learning in our school. This is because
    of the way the teachers have been able to work together to consider their role more deeply and
    facilitate critical professional discussions about early years pedagogy. (Post interview, Director
    of Curriculum, School 1)

    I look at the teachers now and I see the shifts they have made. They have truly been able to
    demonstrate their capabilities as leaders in early years and share that with others in the school.
    I think it has been wonderful for our teachers to have this. They are so excited. Someone had
    to have faith in them as professionals and because of this they are now empowered to make
    change. (Post interview, Head of Junior School, School 2)

    The development of educational leadership capabilities comes through strongly in all of
    these comments. Educational leadership has been demonstrated through qualities such as
    being able to motivate and influence people, advocate for change and create a vision for
    early years within their school setting. There are clear references to shifts in professional and
    personal identities, and these shifts have been linked with notions of becoming leaders in
    their schools.

  • Conclusion
  • I would argue that action research has potentially been a powerful strategy for developing
    leadership practices across the early years for this group of teachers. First, it supported the
    teachers in developing a vision for early years within their school. Importantly, the visions
    imagined for early years emerged from the relational work involved in coming together to
    work on an action research project. Second, it enabled the generation of new knowledge
    and achievement of action-orientated outcomes relevant to the respective school context.
    Relational and distributed leadership was a key factor behind the action-oriented outcomes.
    Third, it enabled shifts in professional identities because of the dialogue entered into
    throughout the course of the action research project. Dialogue was challenging because it
    pushed established boundaries that needed to be contested if a vision for ‘early years’ was
    to be realised.

    It is important to acknowledge that this was only an evaluation of action research, and
    therefore the article cannot capture the complexities of the ‘action’ that was involved in
    realising the outcomes. The article can only provide snapshots from individual perspectives.
    The data point to many factors that can be claimed as being responsible for the changes
    realised, including the importance of forming networks both within and across the schools.
    networking was also shown to be a key factor behind the relational work that unfolded.
    Every teacher in their post interview made reference to the importance of this work, both
    in terms of personal growth as well as growth of the team. This makes it difficult to generalise
    the findings solely to action research, for there is evidence in the literature that other forms


    of collegiality could have the same effect (for example, Hargreaves and Fink 2004). From a
    practical point of view, perhaps just creating time and space for team-building would have
    achieved the same outcomes. However, I do question this, because I believe the action
    research provided them with a goal to work on, and by doing so they had a ‘collective’ sense
    of what they needed to do in order to achieve their goals. I would also argue that the very
    act of establishing goals and actions shifted the focus from individual development to a
    collective focus on achieving the best possible outcomes for students as they transitioned
    from the ELC and into the school. This is in keeping with nuttall, Thomas, and Henderson
    (forthcoming), who argue that a collective focus on practice is key to developing sustainable
    forms of leadership in the early years.

    Therefore, what this study has shown is a shift in terms of relational and distributed
    leadership qualities arising from engagement with action research. This is in contrast to
    research indicating there has been ‘little movement or improvement in the last 10 years in
    the development of leadership capacity for … early childhood [teachers] in school settings’
    (Campbell-Evans, Stamopoulos, and Maloney 2014, 46). However, key questions remain
    around the sustainability of this work. What happens as the formal involvement of ISV comes
    to an end? Will the changes be built on? Will school leadership continue to support this
    work? How will it continue to ‘fit’ within the school’s overall directions? The data already
    point to tensions with sustainability of the work achieved, with the leadership from one
    school acknowledging an upcoming change in the leadership structure of the school was
    potentially going to place the work at risk (School 1). Therefore, questions remain around
    what needs to happen to sustain the development of these teachers in terms of their ability
    to be educational leaders in the early years. Based on this question, I would assert there is
    a critical need for further research identifying conditions that are capable of fostering sus-
    tainable forms of educational leadership, or what has been termed elsewhere as ‘sustainable
    learning-rich leadership’ (nuttall et al. 2015). Action research can develop educational lead-
    ership capabilities, but research of its use in early years for the development of sustainable
    forms is lacking. Therefore, as Muijs et al. argue, there is compelling evidence for research
    to a shift away from that which rarely ‘transcends the tips for leaders style’ (2004, 158), to
    long-term research into how action research can produce sustainable learning-rich leader-
    ship in the early years.

  • Notes
  • 1. In Australia the term ‘early years’ is used to define the period from birth to eight years of age.
    2. In Australia there are government schools, independent schools and Catholic schools.

    Independent schools are governed by an elected board. They are fee-paying schools and
    range from elite grammar schools through to smaller independent schools with particular
    philosophies guiding their day-to-day running. Generally, they educate children from three
    through to 18 years of age.

    3. ISV is a key governing body representing independent schools across Victoria. Their key role
    is advocating for their member schools by engaging with government. Another key role is
    providing for the professional development needs of teachers working in their member schools.

    4. ELCs in independent schools provide education for children from three to five years of age.
    5. Prep is the first year of school for all children in the Australian state of Victoria. Children need

    to turn five years of age by 30 April of the year they start school.

    400 L. HEnDERSon

  • Acknowledgements
  • The author acknowledges ISV’s funding of this research study.

  • Disclosure statement
  • no potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

  • Funding
  • ISV provided funding for this research study.

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    Woodrow, C. 2011. “Challenging Identities: A Case for Leadership.” In Professionalization, Leadership and
    Management in the Early Years, edited by L. Miller, and C. Cable, 29–46. London: Sage.

    Woodrow, C., and G. Busch. 2008. “Repositioning Early Childhood Leadership as Action and Activism.”
    European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 16 (1): 83–93.

    Zembylas, M. 2005. “Discursive Practices, Genealogies and Emotional Rules: A Poststructuralist View
    on Emotion and Identity in Teaching.” Teaching and Teacher Education 21: 935–948.

    • Abstract
    • Introduction
      Educational leadership in the Australian early years context
      An evaluation of three action research projects
      School 1
      School 2
      School 3
      Action research evaluation and data analysis
      Building relationships and time
      Influencing others and shifting identities
      Disclosure statement


    If the environment is the third teacher what language does
    she speak?
    Ann Pairman and Lisa Terreni

    Our motivation to write about the significance of developing
    quality early childhood environments for young children comes
    from many years of hands-on teaching in early childhood
    centres1. Our current work for Early Childhood Development,
    which includes professional development, playgroup work and
    advice to establishing services, has heightened our awareness of
    issues relating to early childhood environments.

    Through our work we have been struck by the number of
    groups looking at behaviour management issues. However, we
    have noticed that when teachers and parents carefully observe
    the environment and children’s interactions within that
    environment, and implement appropriate changes, there has
    often been an instant and startling positive impact on the
    children’s level of involvement in activities and their
    interactions with each other.

    Another major influence on our thinking has been the work of
    early childhood educators from Reggio Emilia. We are
    interested in how the theoretical underpinnings of their
    approach has manifested in New Zealand and other Western
    countries. The influence Reggio Emilia programmes have had

    on early childhood educators’ thinking – in the design of
    educational equipment, use of colour, space and lighting in
    early childhood centres, and the growing awareness of the
    importance of aesthetics in educational environments, reinforces
    our own belief that the Arts and aesthetics education are
    integral to developing quality early childhood programmes.

    We have titled this paper ‘If the environment is the third teacher
    what language does she speak?’ because we believe the early
    childhood environment gives children important messages and
    cues. In other words, the environment ‘speaks’ to children –
    about what they can do, how and where they can do it and how
    they can work together.

    “What is in a space, a room or a yard, and how it is arranged
    can affect the behaviour of people; it can make it easier to act in
    certain kinds of ways, harder to act in others. We don’t
    ordinarily think to take out a deck of cards at a dinner table set
    for six, even though the number and arrangement suggest a
    poker game. The whole setting gives us cues about expected
    behaviour, and generally we do what we have been invited to
    do…in a similar way, particular settings invite children to


    involve themselves in particular activities, and the extent of
    children’s constructive participation in the activity will depend
    in large part on how well certain concrete. Measurable aspects
    of the surrounding physical space meet their “hunger, attitudes
    and interests…”2

    The adults and teachers who work in the early childhood
    environment largely construct the ‘language’ of the
    environment so it is important that educators understand this
    language. It is our belief that a quality environment responds to
    the hundred languages of children identified by Loris
    Malaguzzi (pedagogist director of the journal ‘Bambini’ and a
    key figure in the development and promotion of the Reggio
    Emilia early childhood centres) in his poem The hundred
    languages of children.3 The early childhood environment needs to
    say to children… Yes! This is a place for singing and
    understanding, a place to discover, to invent and to dream, a
    place for listening and marvelling.

    We’ve identified three key aspects to any early childhood
    environment as the physical environment, the interactional
    environment (social interactions within the environment) and
    the temporal environment (routines/time). However this paper
    only attempts to examine two key areas of the physical
    environment – organisation and aesthetics. We consider that
    these two key areas contribute significantly to the messages and
    cues given to children by the environment.

    In this paper we also comment on the way the physical
    environment influences the emotional climate of an early
    childhood setting, and the influence this has on children’s

    learning and well being. We make suggestions about planning
    an environment that caters for a mixed age group.

    Diagram 1

    The key aspects of an early childhood environment


    Organisation of the physical environment

    Organisation of the physical environment involves two key
    areas – the physical definition of activity areas and the
    equipment within these activity areas.

    Defining activity areas
    Most early childhood teachers recognise the importance of
    defining areas of activity for children. However, it is surprising
    how often these areas are poorly located in relation to each
    other. Block and construction areas can be found in front of
    dramatic play areas, indoor climbing equipment is occasionally
    found in the middle of the art area, or within an otherwise quiet
    space. It is often difficult to find pathways which allow children
    to move freely between areas, or have a clear view of what is
    available. Outdoor climbing equipment often obscures
    children’s view of quiet spaces, making it difficult for them to
    effectively self select activities.

    Why this occurs has been of interest to us, and it is worth
    reflecting on some possible reasons in order to find ways to
    overcome barriers to change. Visiting a centre and observing the
    children’s movement with ‘new eyes’ is a luxury the
    professional development coordinator’s role affords us. After
    talking with teachers and observing children it appears that, as
    in our own homes, spaces, equipment and colour choices, have
    often evolved from years of piecemeal change. Many aspects are
    as they are, simply because they have always been there. For
    example, the location of the lino, laid years earlier, will forever
    define the art area.

    Teachers often have few resources (especially time and money)
    to step back with a view to revamping the centre. And, unless
    there is sufficient time and support to reflect and plan, it seems
    almost impossible. It’s not! In our experience, changes that
    radically affect the way children utilise the learning
    environment are often cheap and achievable.

    Another challenge in the organisation of space is the extent to
    which centres differ from each other in relation to the age range,
    group size and the length of the day. The organisation of space
    in a kindergarten setting is unlikely to work in a mixed age
    setting. Articles written about environment planning, often
    focus on infants and toddlers or older children, but seldom
    both. This is probably because centres catering to children from
    0 – 5 years in other countries4 tend to have a greater degree of
    age separation than many New Zealand centres.

    Because of this complexity, teachers need time to reflect and
    plan so they can create physical spaces that respond to the
    languages of the children in their care. It is important that
    teachers seek support wherever possible, through professional
    development and utilisation of other professionals such as,
    architects, landscape gardeners, colour consultants and interior

    Anita Olds (1987) suggests that well designed activity areas
    have five defining attributes:
    “…i) a physical location; ii) visible boundaries, indicating where
    the area begins and ends; iii) work and sitting surfaces; iv)
    materials storage and display and v) a mood or personality.”5


    These attributes will be used as a framework for the following

    Physical Location
    The relationships and ‘flow’ between activity areas are crucial
    factors in creating environments that support children’s need
    for a range of experiences including: self initiated quiet times,
    enjoyment of a sense of order, a feeling of belonging,
    participation in collaborative activity and the chance to make a

    It may seem obvious that quiet areas are located together, away
    from noisy areas, while art areas need water and clean up
    equipment. However the juxtaposition of these areas requires
    careful planning. Although water and paint will both need to be
    near a sink, it is probably better for the paint to be closest to the
    reading area because the movement and talk occurring around a
    water trough may be distracting6.

    Existing structures
    When defining areas of activity, opportunities presented by the
    structural aspects of the building should also be taken into
    account. Features such as a fireplace or window onto an
    interesting view can be capitalised on7. For example, platforms
    can be built below windows to allow children to reach a view,
    whereas nooks and crannies lend themselves to development as
    retreat spaces. Canopy trees also provide opportunities for the
    development of a quiet space, while existing undulations may
    support large motor equipment such as tree stumps and low
    slides. How each area is developed will then affect the choice of
    nearby activity spaces. Areas of high use should be spread

    through out the available space so that children will be more
    inclined to work as part of small groups or as individuals rather
    than ‘bunching up’.

    Pathways- indoors and outdoors
    Once areas of activity have been tentatively planned, it is
    important to consider the flow of activities from the children’s
    point of view. Children need to know where they can find
    things in order to set their own goals – so they can decide what
    they are interested in and how they will manipulate the
    materials to explore those interests. This assists children to re-
    construct their knowledge in different activity areas e.g. play
    with bones in the sandpit may be transferred to representation
    in the art area or further exploration through block play. In
    order to regulate their own emotional needs children need to
    know where to find quiet spaces, busy, noisy spaces, or spaces
    where they can have physical contact with adults.

    Lino pathway – Early Years Childcare Learning Centre (under twos), separates an
    active space form a quieter area.


    Choices should be visually evident and easily accessible. Thus
    the organisation of space must include the development of clear
    pathways. Kritchevsky, Prescott and Walling (1977) describe a
    clear path and adequate empty spaces as the main criteria for
    good organisation. They define a path as,

    “…the empty space on the floor or ground through which
    people move in getting from one place to another; it need be no
    different in composition from the rest of the surface … if an
    observer looking at a play area can’t answer readily the
    question. “How do children get from one place to another?”
    probably the children can’t either, and there is no clear path”.


    Adults should try crouching low to look at the view, then move
    around the spaces at the child’s level. There is no clear path if
    you have to negotiate climbing apparatus or step over other
    play activities in order to reach the desired activity area.

    Outdoor areas may include the incorporation of very defined
    pathways, which incorporate different textures. The width and
    texture of an outdoor path gives children messages about how
    the path, and the space it leads to, can be used. Differing
    textures can also help to create sensory interest for children
    (especially crawling babies) and define areas of activity.

    Path leading to pine needle pit – Northland childcare centre


    Indoor floor coverings
    When setting up a new centre a basic guide for floor coverings
    is: one third of the floor area carpet and two thirds lino. It is
    useful to begin by drawing in areas of activity on your plans to
    highlight the location of wet and dry areas. Lino can always
    have large carpet squares added later, and can in fact be useful
    in helping to define spaces e.g. the block area. However centres
    with too much fixed carpet find their ability to change the
    layout of the centre, or offer messy play that can be transported
    by the children, severely limited.

    Visible boundaries
    Once the layout of activity areas has been reviewed, each area
    should be defined by clear boundaries. This does not mean that
    children cannot move equipment from one area to another.
    However, clear boundaries offer children a sense of order that
    encourages them make purposeful choices and feel empowered
    by their ability to find things. Children operating in areas with
    clear boundaries tend to become more deeply involved in
    activities for longer periods of time.


    Boundaries can be created by using differing floor coverings,
    matching colour within an area, hanging fabric to create a
    ‘ceiling’, or utilising carpet covered risers or existing shelving.
    Anita Olds (1987) describes colour as “…the most powerful
    visual organiser.”10 Deliberate and discerning use of colour is
    often neglected in early childhood settings in New Zealand.
    There is a tendency to create visually cluttered environments
    through the use of bright colours scattered throughout a space.

    An example of how colour can give messages to children can be
    seen in the grouping of tables and chairs. By painting them in
    one matching colour, a visual message about where they belong
    and how they are to be put back after they have been used is
    given. It also allows the child’s focus to be drawn to new items
    of interest, without too much visual distraction, e.g. to a vase of
    flowers or a bowl of fruit. When the tables and chairs are
    presented in an array of bright colours become less visible.
    rather than standing out as items of interest and beauty. They
    add to visual confusion rather than standing out as items of

    Two green seats make a strong visual and physical statement about the area
    presented to children.


    Fabrics and other transparent materials
    The provision of retreat spaces is particularly important for
    young children who seek quiet time or wish to explore with
    others in private. One way to create boundaries for this type of
    area, is to utilise semi transparent fabrics, coloured perspex and
    partial dividers. These materials can offer children a sense of
    privacy while allowing a degree of supervision. Boxes, barrels
    with openings, soft spaces with large cushions and blankets can

    also offer children retreat space.

    Low shelving and fabric create dividers –
    Wellington Law Centre Creche.

    Shelving, partitions and screens
    Screening off an area is an effective way of creating separate and
    new spaces. Screens made of transparent materials allow
    children to see through the screen, and assist with supervision.
    Utilising existing shelving is also an effective way to screen off

    Screens in use at the Melbourne Early
    Learning Centre

    Work and sitting surfaces

    The language of chairs
    Although very few activities need involve actually sitting at
    tables, small chairs are the predominant seating surface in many
    early childhood services. For example, in an art area the creation
    of a work space using a table top is very appropriate. However,
    if we want children to mix media, construct with a variety of
    materials and, at times, work together to solve their construction
    problems and share their ideas, why provide lots of chairs?
    These tend to give the message that you should sit in a specific
    place and work in the space in front of you.

    While very appropriate for lunchtimes, and some activities eg
    complex manipulative tasks such as puzzles, chairs may be
    limiting in other areas. For instance, it is our observation that
    children tend to move more freely, and experiment with more
    materials, in art areas that have few chairs.

    Getting down low
    Where raised seating is appropriate, small boxes or reels can
    create less clutter, more flexibility and are often easier for very
    young children to perch on, or get on and off with ease.
    However, it is also worth considering the use of very low tables
    which can be useful for activities such as puzzles. In this case
    cushions provide good seating. It is possible to buy tables with
    extendable legs in New Zealand.


    Moveable, carpet-covered risers (which can form display
    surfaces, developmental barriers, and support babies learning to
    stand and walk) also provide good seating surfaces for both


    adults and children. Changes in surface heights can give a sense
    of increased space.

    Moveable. Carpet covered risers

    Outdoor seating is crucial and often inadequate. Low spaces
    suitable for adults and children are particularly important
    around sandpits. Quiet reflective spaces (where children may
    observe and ‘opt out’ of the actions) should also have
    comfortable seating.

    It is also important to consider how well furniture meets the
    needs of adults in each area. Children tend to locate where there

    are adults, and this can cause over crowding if the adults
    congregate in only a few ‘adult friendly’ areas.

    Storage and display
    Crook and Farmer (1996) believe that the presentation of
    equipment and resources should say “…’come and get me’,
    inspiring feelings of excitement, intrigue and the desire to explore.”


    In order to make ‘ordinary things look extraodinary’


    presentation should be uncluttered. It is important to think
    about the focus of an area. In the book area, for example, a
    choice of books may be one focus while the couch, with inviting
    soft cushions, may be the other. Fabrics, colour and display
    should support these different foci. Too many books can lead to
    visual clutter and reduce their appeal to children. An array of
    posters and different coloured shelves, walls and fabrics can
    have the same effect.

    Wicker baskets are both functional and look attractive – Wellington South


    Having fewer resources on display at one time, allows adults to
    keep areas inviting by maintaining attractive and dynamic
    presentation. When the resources on display are pared back,
    storage options must be located close by. Equipment that is
    stored near to its related activity area is much more likely to be
    utilised effectively.

    The challenge of mixed-age settings

    Katz, Evangelou & Hartman (1990) describe mixed-age
    groupings as situations where children “..who are at least a year
    apart in age…” are placed in the same ‘classroom’ groups.114 The
    same writers point out that the resulting range of competencies
    within a mixed-age group “ rise to cognitive conflicts and
    opportunities to lead, instruct, nurture, and strengthen skills and
    knowledge already acquired in the course of tutoring others”.215 They
    suggest that curriculum should be oriented towards projects
    and activities that encourage collaboration and the use of peer
    tutoring, cooperative learning and spontaneous grouping of
    children. These points are consistent with the view that children
    are ‘communities of learners’ and the Vygotskian approach to
    scaffolding children’s learning. However it should be noted that
    the authors tend refer to, and give examples of, situations where
    the age ‘spread’ is less that two years except where the group
    size is very small.


    While Greenman and Stonehouse ( 1997) also support
    mixed age contexts in their book Primetimes3, they

    also make the following important point.

    “If the age range extends beyond 18 months, …[it]…is a
    challenge to provide the range of materials, equipment, and
    experiences needed by children of diverse ages within one
    space. There is often natural movement toward the lowest
    common denominator – that is, toward providing only
    materials and experiences that are safe and manageable for
    the youngest children and therefore do not fully meet the
    needs of the oldest children – or toward aiming for the
    middle, which slights both the older and younger
    children…there are … centres where twenty to thirty
    children under 5 years spend much of their day all in
    together ‘family’ grouping. This is a significant misnomer.
    Families are not of such size and this type of grouping
    places particular stress on the younger children in the
    group.” 4


    The centres of twenty-five to thirty described by Greenman and
    Stonehouse mirror the most common model we experience in
    our work with New Zealand services. Even though, in many
    situations, the ‘under two’s’ are separated from the older
    children for periods of the day, it is questionable how
    appropriate their learning environments will be given the
    overall space available.

    The New Zealand experience offers particular challenges in
    relation to the provision of safe but challenging opportunities
    for exploration. It is common to visit centres where older
    children seldom have access to small, intricate objects (such as


    beautiful glass beads), potentially ‘dangerous’ equipment (such
    as nails, hammers and drills), or messy equipment (such as dye,
    screen printing). Similarly adult interactions with younger
    children in mixed age settings may focus on preventing children
    from exploring with their whole bodies – because the
    equipment is inappropriate.

    The following ideas may be useful when considering how to
    create a safe but challenging environment for all children.

    • Create some spaces specifically for infants, toddlers and
    older children while including large spaces which can be
    developed into environments for shared activities.

    • Low physical barriers, such as risers, can be used to
    define areas for young babies by giving older children
    the message “…this is a ‘low’, ‘slow’ space…you’re
    welcome to join the babies but you need to go slow here”.

    • Low, interesting fencing can be incorporated around
    spaces such as the carpentry ‘house’, so that very young
    children can interact with older children and use the
    equipment, but only with very close adult supervision.

    • In a shared space fewer objects, such as complex puzzles,
    need be on display at any one time. A high shelf or
    cupboard, located close to a puzzle area, could contain
    puzzles for older children’s access.

    • A high table with a rim (and adult chairs) can provide a
    surface for older children to work with very small,
    manipulative equipment.

    • The creation of loft areas can provide spaces for older
    children while also offering young children interesting
    enclosures and small spaces underneath. Removing the
    first step of a loft ladder can maintain an age appropriate
    barrier. However, appropriate opportunities for very
    young children to climb ‘up and over’ should also be
    offered within the early childhood setting.

    One has to question whether the provision of quality spaces, which are
    tailored to the needs of infants, toddlers and older children, can be
    achieved within NZ’s minimum requirement for 2.5 square metres of
    activity space

    Hageley High Child Care Centre. Fence dividing play area for younger and older



    Aesthetics is a term that can be defined as the ‘critical
    evaluation’ of a piece of art (which includes the visual and
    dramatic arts, as well as dance and music) or a design, based on
    criteria that are seen as important by a particular culture. Often
    these criteria focus on intellectual concepts to explain ‘what the
    aesthetic experience consists of’18 e.g. the use of form, line and
    colour, themes of the work, combination of mediums, use of
    symbolism, etc. Inherent in this definition is an appreciation and
    recognition of the skill and craft of the artist who has executed
    the work.

    Another definition views aesthetics as the appreciation of a
    pleasant and special sensory experience (usually visual, aural,
    or tactile).19 However, as well as being pleasing to the senses,
    aesthetic objects or situations often involve other features ‘that
    are pleasing to the cognitive faculties: repetition, pattern,
    continuity, clarity, dexterity, elaboration or variation of a theme,
    contrast, balance, and proportion.’20. For example, a display of
    natural materials can be aesthetically pleasing not only because
    of the inherent natural beauty of the materials themselves but
    also because of the way the objects are arranged (balanced,
    contrasted, spaced), and where they are situated (light, access,
    proximity to other activities). Inherent in this notion of
    aesthetics is the premise that aesthetic experiences are
    pleasurable and involve an emotional response from the

    For the purposes of this paper we are using this second
    definition of aesthetics. It is our belief that there are certain
    factors inherent in this definition that can be used when

    planning a quality early childhood environment. However, it is
    important to note that aesthetics as the understanding and
    appreciation of the Arts, also has a crucial place in early
    childhood programmes and that the two definitions of
    aesthetics regularly intertwine.

    It has been our experience that many early childhood centres in
    New Zealand overlook attention to aesthetics in the
    environment. Other early childhood commentators have noted.
    “Aesthetics is a worthy but often unconsidered goal when
    designing the visual environment for infants and toddlers (and
    pre-schoolers). Children are more likely to grow up with an eye
    for beauty if the adults around them demonstrate that they
    value aesthetics.”21

    Unlike Italy and many other European countries, sectors of New
    Zealand society have yet to establish a cultural identity, which
    embraces the Arts. Pakeha culture has have a pioneer tradition
    of ‘do it yourself’, and ‘number 8 fencing wire’ workmanship,
    which is determined by functionality, immediate usefulness and
    cost cutting. This approach generally excludes considerations of
    good design principles or aesthetics. In early childhood settings
    the result of this type of approach can be disastrous, particularly
    in the development of outside play areas. However, the use of
    trained designers, architects and landscape architects can ensure
    that costly and ugly mistakes are prevented.

    We have observed that many New Zealand early childhood
    centres, while providing a good range of resources and
    experiences for children, are so cluttered with materials and
    equipment that the aesthetic qualities of many objects are lost in
    a confusing jumble. Some centres cover their walls with ‘cute’


    paintings of commercial images or adult art, which is not only
    unimaginative but also dominating. Large murals also create a
    high degree of inflexibility in an area by locking the space into a
    particular style.

    Presentation of children’s work is often not well considered and
    art work is either randomly or chaotically displayed on centre
    walls, or in some cases, entirely absent.

    Good aesthetics result not only in an overall sense of
    attractiveness and beauty within an early childhood centre, but
    also gives pleasure to those who work and play in the centre,
    and to those who visit. It has been noted that centres that are
    dingy and unattractive can result in a negative perception about
    the children who attend the centre.

    ‘ …The need for beauty is particularly important in centres for
    handicapped children and their families. If parents associate only ugly
    places and experiences with their children, soon the child, too, is seen
    as ugly’.22

    De-institutionalising early childhood environments is important
    not only because hundreds of New Zealand children spend a
    considerable part of their early years attending one type of
    service or other, but primarily because

    ‘…the trappings of an institution act as barriers to the development of
    warm, trusting relationships, a sense of community, and feelings of
    ownership and belonging.’23

    Cushion nook at Playspace Parent Co-op provides a beautiful retreat space for
    infants and toddlers which has variety of colour and textures.

    Good aesthetic decisions can help to de-institutionalise
    environments such as early childhood centres but also hospitals
    and other institutions where young children are cared for, for
    long periods of time We believe a good early childhood
    environment should be made as ‘homelike’ as possible.

    Often making an environment more beautiful and inviting,
    results in individual objects and equipment getting the respect
    and care they deserve, and they can then be used and
    appreciated to the fullest.


    D i s p l a y w i t h V a n G o u g h ’ s
    Sunflowers, art books, dye and
    drawing pens on light box – Lauriston

    Mary Jalongo and Lauri Stamp (1997) describe some of the
    aesthetic considerations a teacher may need to make when
    setting up her classroom.

    ‘In order to arrange the room, to make it aesthetically pleasing,
    and make it inviting to children, she will need to do much more
    that staple a couple of pictures up on the bulletin board. She
    will need to plan ways to make the room operate smoothly and
    consider things such as traffic patterns and where to locate
    quiet, noisy and messy activities … she will need to arrange
    materials so that children can locate them readily and take
    responsibility for putting them back in place. To make her

    classroom more welcoming and homelike [she] has brought in
    several large pillows, her collection of art prints, an old rocking
    chair…and a vase for flowers, Display areas for children’s work
    are another consideration in making the room aesthetically
    pleasing. [She] has covered some low shelves with plastic shelf
    liner so that the children can display their clay creations. She
    also has covered her bulletin boards with paper in dark hues so
    that the children’s crayon self portraits will stand out…’ 24

    Jalongo and Stamp point out that these aesthetic considerations
    support the teacher’s child-centred approach to teaching and
    that the environment that has been developed ‘speaks’ to the
    children about how she wants them to use it. The teacher is able
    to combine both beauty and functionality.

    Key aesthetic considerations for an early childhood

    It can be seen that consideration of aesthetics in the early
    childhood environment must include the careful organisation of
    space and often aesthetic and organisational considerations will
    overlap in many areas. We have identified several key aesthetic
    considerations that can be used when establishing and
    reviewing an early childhood environment.

    • The internal colour scheme of a centre needs to create

    mood and define spaces. A particularly comprehensive
    reference book which discusses colour in detail is the
    Child Care Design Guide written by Anita Rui Olds25.


    • It is important to determine floor colours first so that the
    walls can be painted to complement the floor colour.

    • Use primary colours cautiously. Too many bright colours
    may make children distracted and agitated or cause them
    to shut down their senses.

    • Establishing centres, or centres having a total repaint,
    should call on the services of colour consultants. Paint
    retailers often have a free service.

    • Colour can be added to a neutral background by
    incorporating fabric, paintings or other works of art.

    Family corner – Lauriston Kindergarten, Melbourne

    • Use natural lighting whenever possible – natural light is

    healthier and has varying qualities of illumination
    throughout the day.

    • Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting – these can create

    • Use full spectrum lamps with a CRI of 85 –9026 (can be
    available as fluorescent bulbs).

    • Consider having a range of different light sources in the
    centre e.g. lights with dimmers in sleep rooms, lights
    with upward facing tubes that do not glare into babies
    eyes, wall mounted goose-neck lamps, mini halogens for
    art work or bulletin boards etc.

    • Display objects that arouse curiosity and wonder.
    • Use both natural materials and found materials in the

    • Make sure materials are presented in an orderly and

    considered way.
    • Reorganise materials once children have finished using

    them so they retain their appeal.
    • Arrange and display objects in different ways so that

    children’s curiosity is aroused.
    • Display a variety of art work or objects d’art in the centre

    – different styles, from different cultures, in different
    mediums e.g. sculpture, pottery, weaving, tapa cloth, art
    prints from the library.

    • Display children’s work in careful and respectful ways. It
    is often better to highlight one or two paintings rather


    than a mass of work. Framing can highlight and
    transform children’s work.

    • Display documentation – written and photographic, in a
    well spaced and orderly way, preferably at the children’s

    • Ensure parent noticeboards are uncluttered and
    attractive, and regularly updated so old material is

    • Avoid presenting ‘cute’ commercialised images to
    children as art work. Present a range of images that
    encourage imagination and discussion.

    Children need to be presented with a diverse range of styles and images that
    challenge children to think about different ways subjects can be portrayed.27

    Sensory experiences
    • Provide experiences, materials, and equipment that are

    sensory rich – visual, aural, tactile, and olfactory.

    It is important that teachers of young children model an
    appreciation of beauty and aesthetics for young children.
    Because young children are so open to sensory experiences it is
    the perfect time in a child’s development to encourage their

    faculty for wonder and ‘marvelling’ at beautiful and ‘special’

    ‘It is not necessary to be an artist to help young children enjoy the
    creative process or to help them gain pleasure from the creations of
    others. It is necessary to believe that experiences with beauty, the arts,
    and nature are valuable parts of all our lives’ 28

    In conclusion, we strongly argue that careful organisation and
    aesthetic considerations influence the emotional climate of an
    early childhood centre and children’s learning.

    We have regularly observed that an unattractive, chaotic, and
    noisy environment is likely to hype up children’s behaviour so
    they become disruptive and disrespectful of the environment,
    and the materials and equipment within it. Conversely, we have
    seen environments that are too pristine and immaculately tidy
    which do not provide enough challenges for children. Children
    who are bored, who have their creativity stifled by too many
    controls in the environment, and who are not challenged
    enough will also manifest disruptive and disrespectful

    We sometimes hear people say, “We’ll sort out the environment
    then we’ll start on the programme planning” as though they are
    different. When refecting on the environment, those involved
    need to observe how children’s learning is being supported and
    encouraged. Learning goals can be set, and strategies consistent
    with Te Whaariki, can be implemented (see Appendix 1).
    Planning the environment is part of programme planning.


    1 Lisa Terreni has worked in kindergarten with three and four year old children. Ann
    Pairman has worked in in child care, mainly with infants and toddlers and mixed age
    2 Kritchevsky, S., & Prescott,E., with Walling, L. (1977). Planning environments for
    young children: Physical space (2nd ed.). Washington DC.: NAEYC, p5.
    3 Malaguzzi, L. The hundred languages of children. See:
    4 Pairman, A. (2001). The Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998:
    Minimum standards or a permanent barrier to quality? (Unpublished, contact
    5 Olds, A. (1987). Spaces for children: The built environment and child development.
    (Ed. Weinstein, C. & David, T.) New York: Plenum Press, p131.
    6 Greenman, J., & Stonehouse, A. 1997. Prime times: A handbook for excellence in
    infant and toddler programs. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman.
    7 Olds, A. (1987). Spaces for children: The built environment and child development.
    (Ed. Weinstein, C. & David, T.) New York: Plenum Press, p131.
    8 Kritchevsky, S., & Prescott,E., with Walling, L. (1977). Planning environments for
    young children: Physical space (2nd ed.). Washington DC.: National Association for
    the Education of Young Children, p17.
    9 Crook, S. & Farmer, B., (1996). Just imagine. Creative play experiences for
    children under six. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing.
    10 Olds, A. (1987). Spaces for children: The built environment and child
    development. (Ed. Weinstein, C. & David, T.) New York: Plenum Press, p132
    11 Starex furniture catalogue
    12 Crook, S. & Farmer, B., (1996). Just imagine. Creative play experiences for
    children under six. Melbourne: RMIT Publishing, p 16.
    13 Kolbe, U., Shephard, W., & J Eaton. (1994). Mia- Mia Child and Family Study
    Centre handbook. Sydney: Macquarie University.
    14 Katz, L., Evangelou. D., & Hartman, J.A. (1990). The case for mixed age
    groupings in early childhood education. Washington DC: NAEYC, p1.
    15 Ibid.
    16 Ibid.
    17 Greenman, J., & Stonehouse, A. (1997). Prime times: A handbook for excellence in
    infant and toddler programs. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman, p44.
    18 Dissanayake, Ellen. (1992). Homo Aestheticus: Where art comes from and why.
    New York: The Free Press. p24.

    19 ibid. p 54.
    20 ibid p 55.
    21 Gonzales-Mena, J and Eyer, D.W. (1994). Infants, toddlers and caregivers (4th
    ed.). California: Mayfield, p 94.
    22 Olds, A. (1987). Spaces for children: The built environment and child
    development. (Ed. Weinstein, C. & David, T.) New York: Plenum Press, p137.
    23 Shephard, W and Eaton, J. (1997). Creating environments that intrigue and delight
    children and adults. Child Care Information Exchange 9, 46.
    24 Jalongo, M and Stamp, L. (1997). The arts in children’s lives: aesthetic education
    in early childhood. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, p8.
    25 Olds, A., (2001). Child care design guide. New York: McGraw-Hill.
    26 Colour Rendering Index (CRI) indicates the effect of a light source on an object.
    Sunlight has a CRI of100 and is optimal.
    27 (1994). The Lion King. [Dingley, Vic]: Reed for Kids.
    28 Feeney, S., & Moravcik, E., (1987). A thing of beauty: Aesthetic development in
    young children. Young Children, 42 (6), 11.


    Appendix 1

    Planning the environment – links to Te Whaariki

    When reflecting on the environment, those involved are
    observing how children’s learning is being supported and
    encouraged. Learning goals consistent with Te Whaariki can
    then be planned for and strategies implemented.

    Warm soft, textured spaces invite children to snuggle up to
    adults (or their favourite teddy), lye down and observe others or
    reflect on photos from home. The softness of a home like setting
    is likely to be particularly supportive to children during the
    settling in phase. Good presentation of items which interest
    children will encourage their curiosity and tendency to become
    involved (Strand 2 -Belonging).

    Having a strong sense of well-being allows children to become
    deeply involved in activities. Feeling physically and emotionally
    safe are important pre-requisites to sense of well-being. The
    organisation of quiet spaces, defined areas of activity, safe
    challenges, and areas that encourage small group opportunities
    (where individual needs are met and relationships can become
    robust) will support children to develop feelings of emotionally
    and physical safety (Strand 1: Well-being).

    Well presented materials invite children to explore and making
    the ‘ordinary extraordinary’ will support this tendency.
    Consideration of how the environment offers appropriate
    challenges for all developmental stages is crucial if teachers
    want to engage children’s minds and encourage a tendency to
    persist with difficulty, challenge and uncertainty28. (Strand 5:

    An environment which draws on the Arts is highly conducive to
    children’s developing abilities to express themselves through
    their ‘hundred languages’. Painting, sculpture and drama will
    be enriched by children’s surroundings A well ordered
    environment, that encourages children to make considered
    choices, is also likely to encourage communication amongst
    children and adults about those choices (Strand 4:

    Adults working in a well considered, developmentally
    appropriate environment are able to spend a far greater
    proportion of their time interacting with individual children
    and supporting children’s endeavours to collaborate with
    others.( Strand 3: Contribution).

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    P E E R R E V I E W E D A R T I C L E

    Productive Participation –
    Children as Active Media
    Producers in Kindergarten
    Jonna Leinonen
    Master of Education, Grad student, School of Education, University of Tampere, Finland

    Sara Sintonen
    Docent, Senior Lecturer, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki,

    A B S T R A C T

    Media education and media cultures should be considered a part of early
    childhood education, because media has an important role in children’s lives.
    With a socio-cultural learning approach, children are considered active
    participants and competent actors with the media. In this paper, media
    education has been approached as a case study from the viewpoint of active
    production and participation. The processes of creating media stories included
    steps from orientation and planning to action and story production. According
    to the results gained via content analysis, children were able to share ideas and
    listen to each other’s choices and opinions in participatory learning. They
    were also social actors motivated to participate in conversations and
    negotiations. The joy of learning and acting together intensified the social


    Early childhood education, digital literacy, participation, media production


    Media is part of education at every level of the Finnish school system, inclu-
    ding early childhood, which is referred to as ‘kindergarten.’ The general goal
    of early childhood education is to support a child’s learning and development
    in every aspect of everyday life (National curriculum guidelines on early child-
    hood education and care in Finland, 2005). According to the latest research
    (Kotilainen et al., 2011), media have a remarkable and important role in chil-
    dren’s everyday lives from one to eight years of age. Therefore, media educa-
    tion and children’s media cultures must be considered as a part of early child-
    hood education. Zevenbergen (2007) suggests that these young students,
    whose early environments differ from previous generations due to new digital

    © Universitetsforlaget
    Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy,

    vol. 9, Nr. 3-2014 s. 216–237
    ISSN Online: 1891-943X


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    technologies, can face potential gaps in learning. In order to re-conceptualize
    pedagogy towards more participatory learning methods and support for chil-
    dren’s active agency and creativity, the idea of participation has recently been
    adopted as part of Finnish early childhood education (Venninen, Leinonen,
    Lipponen & Ojala, 2012). New participatory learning methods mean that
    children plan, implement, and evaluate their own learning in social interac-
    tion together with educators.

    Practicing media production can be seen as a core activity for media educa-
    tion in early childhood. The idea is linked to the 21st century definition of
    media by Jenkins et al. (2006): instead of thinking of media and digital culture
    as simple, one-way communication, it is better to consider media a part of a
    system of actions and activities ( Jones & Hafner, 2012). In other words, it
    should be seen as a system of interactive, social processes. In this research
    paper, we will focus on how children express their agency and participation in
    a process of creating their own digital media stories in an early childhood edu-
    cation context. ‘Media creation’ refers to children’s orientation to interactive
    production process. The purpose of this paper and our reflective analysis is to
    offer exemplary accounts of what can be achieved in early childhood media
    education when children are allowed to make media in participatory learning

    First, we will introduce theories of digital literacy and media, and participa-
    tion in early childhood education. In this paper, children’s participation is con-
    sidered from the point of listening to children’s voices and initiatives to influ-
    encing their society and developing ownership of their media stories. Then
    the data collection and analyses for this study is presented. The study was con-
    ducted as a case study in two separate kindergartens with small groups of
    nine children aged three to six years. The processes of creating media stories
    included four steps from orientation and planning to action and story pro-
    duction. The classroom situation was documented with a voice recorder and
    digital pictures taken by the children themselves.

    These results show children to be creative media producers even though they
    did not have previous experience of making media in an early childhood edu-
    cation context. They were also social actors motivated to participate in con-
    versations and negotiations about the media-character but also about the pro-
    cess. Furthermore, they were competent in planning and producing media
    stories. Regarding participatory learning, they were able to share ideas and lis-
    ten to each other’s choices and opinions. The joy of learning and taking action
    together intensified the social learning.


    Digital culture, and especially social media, seems to have become an impor-
    tant part of culture with active participation across various forms of digital


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    media (Carrie et al., 2009; Jenkins et al., 2006). From the point of view of cul-
    ture consumption, reading (media literacy) is becoming a productive task
    rather than the mere reception of information. Therefore, literacy can be seen
    not so much as a skill, but as a social practice (Burn & Durran, 2007; Kupiai-
    nen & Sintonen, 2010). In other words, practices involving digital tools and
    literacy can be considered as socially constructed, states Lafton (2012) in her
    recent study with Norwegian preschoolers. She found that in constructing
    knowledge and finding solutions in digital practices, communication and sha-
    ring are essential. Sintonen (2012a) also defined digital agency as a subjective
    inner negotiation, which can be strengthened through creative, human com-

    Media technology, content, and culture have an important role in the every-
    day life of young children (Ito, 2010; Klerfelt, 2007). Skills for understanding
    and using media are typically learned at home and from peers during the first
    years of a child’s life. Therefore, children learn skills for using media outside
    of formal education and, if granted opportunities, could also use this compe-
    tence in their early childhood education (Plowman, Stephen & McPake,
    2010). The media world, with its sophisticated systems of sharing and crea-
    ting, is not only for adults, but also for children (Kupiainen & Sintonen, 2010).
    Children reflect and create their own media culture as they interpret, repro-
    duce, and negotiate all cultural forms and rules Corsaro (1997). Nevertheless,
    not much research has been conducted on creative media production in early
    childhood education. Plowman et al. (2010) state that in early childhood edu-
    cation settings, media education is still often considered through a desktop
    computer with or without Internet connection and educators in early child-
    hood education have problems adapting ICT to their pedagogy. In her rese-
    arch with children and their teachers in an early childhood education context,
    Klerfelt (2006) has found that children and teachers could build shared under-
    standing of media cultures with interaction and overcome the gap that exists
    between educational institutions and children’s media culture with the help
    of a development project. From our perspective, the situation in Finland is
    similar: new participatory and productive approaches to digital culture
    (re)production have not yet become integrated in pedagogical practices.

    As a part of education, the media in general offers opportunities for dialogue.
    According to Korhonen (2008), these opportunities can begin the process of
    exploring and sharing perspectives, but also deeper understanding. Thus,
    media can provide learning experiences. Interactive learning, which is shared
    with peers and educators is not a new idea, and learning in socio-cultural
    approach as in guided participation (Rogoff, 2003) could support children role
    as competent actors and agents of their own learning. Plowman et al. points
    (2010) out that technology grants opportunities to make this the process of
    learning, which emerges in social interaction in socio-cultural paradigm of
    learning, visible, but also to help children master their learning. Prout (2005)
    states that, when supporting children’s learning in social interaction, educa-
    tors should ensure that media is not considered a one-way influence, but that


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    children can also influence and create media. Empowerment within media
    requires media literacy, which means understanding and interpreting various
    media as well as using skills to communicate, discuss, share, and create media.
    In this way, the foundation for agency and experiences of participation is
    established (Kupiainen & Sintonen, 2010), and learned during children’s early

    When encountering media, children do play with media devices and materi-
    als, as Plowman et al. (2010) have found in their studies. They suggest that
    playful actions and guided play could be used as a pedagogical tool in media
    education with children. This requires support for educator in exploring and
    learning and not only in using media, but also in practicing new skills and
    exploring social interactions with media and technology. Play is an important
    part of children’s everyday life in early childhood education settings, and is lin-
    ked to socio-cultural learning (Hakkarainen, 2006; Vygotsky, 1977). When
    developing children’s digital literacy by using playful and creative pedagogies,
    and viewing the process of learning as socially constructed, might help edu-
    cators. In her studies, Klerfelt (2007) has found that children’s storytelling
    with digital devices can be improvised and pedagogical interaction between
    children and their teachers’ can be implemented at levels that support chil-
    dren’s learning. According to Marsh (2013), these pedagogies are constructed
    with flexible learning spaces and multimodal production/design, which
    means the process of production does not have to be stacked in a single com-
    puter program or digital device. In addition, the cultural relevance of digital
    activities and contests as well as opportunity for digital play, has an essential
    role in children’s learning. A final component of Marsh’s framework is parti-
    cipatory practice, which allows children to act together with educators as
    active agents.


    In the Sociology of Childhood, Corsaro (1997) points out, that young children
    should not only be socialized in the adult world, but they should also be con-
    sidered active participants who interpret and reproduce the culture of their
    society. Young children are capable of expressing themselves and be incompe-
    tent in understanding their experiences and thus sharing them with others
    (Smith, 2002). The participation of children can be considered a part of the
    socio-cultural learning paradigm (Vygotsky, 1977), where children are invol-
    ved in their everyday life as active agents of their learning influence (Berthel-
    sen, 2009; Smith, 2002). According to Venninen & Leinonen (2013), children’s
    participation in early childhood educational settings is a multidimensional
    issue. Here the important elements are: well-being and active competence.
    The well-being of children requires support from educators, such as fulfilling
    needs and providing an opportunity for expressing independent initiatives and
    learning together with educators and peers (Emilson & Folkesson, 2006). On
    the other hand, participation also involves active competences: being able to


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    make decisions and learn. These are parts of children’s everyday life in kin-
    dergarten (Smith, 2002). The essential elements of young children’s participa-
    tion are expressions of joy and membership in a group (Venninen & Leino-
    nen, 2013). As mentioned before, play also has an essential role in children’s
    participatory experiences. Bae (2009) claims that in early childhood education
    institutions only in play, can children use power and make initiatives and deci-
    sions that have influence. She states that in participatory learning play and
    playful activities, children can reflect and interpret the rules of their environ-
    ment and learn to have an influence on them. Pedagogical support from edu-
    cators to children’s learning could be offered through play (Hakkarainen,

    In research on early childhood education, the issue of how to support chil-
    dren’s participation is important. An educator’s skills in adopting the child’s
    perspective and supporting children’s chances to participate are essential,
    because very young children cannot choose participation by themselves
    (Emilson & Folkesson, 2006). Child-initiated activities are part of participa-
    tion, where the educator’s role is to facilitate, support, and build an environ-
    ment that is open to child-initiated activities (Leinonen & Venninen, 2012).
    Children’s participation may become a reality in such a day-care group, in
    which educators have an interest in children’s perspectives and willingness to
    support joint activities, while joy and sharing are part of everyday actions
    (Bae, 2009; Emilson & Folkesson, 2006; Venninen & Leinonen, 2013).

    In this study, children’s participation is seen as a common activity of interpre-
    ting the world with other children and adults who respect and listen to chil-
    dren. Participation is seen to include the right to self-empowerment, when
    children take self-initiated actions and practice skills of responsibility and
    power (Emilson & Folkesson, 2006; Venninen, Leinonen, 2013). Children’s
    capacity to formulate and express their views and to participate in decision-
    making is highly dependent on the context and especially the extent to which
    educators can support and facilitate children’s participation (Pramling-Samu-
    elsson & Sheridan, 2001).

    The focus of this study is to describe and analyze how children become invol-
    ved in media-production and how their participation becomes visible in acti-
    vities like this. The research questions for this study are therefore:

    1 How does child-ownership of media emerge and develop during the rese-
    arched media-production process?

    2 How does child-participation emerge and develop during the researched

    3 What phases of self-initiated activity of children are parts of this process?


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    This research is a qualitative action research case study. In early childhood
    education action research inquiry, according to O’Connell Rust (2007), focus
    is on ongoing processes of actions by children, because many of children are
    still developing their verbal skill wherefore their actions are part of their voi-
    ces. In the action research, the theoretical ideas are linked to action and rela-
    tionships among the data and are represented in social interaction (McNiff &
    Whitehead, 2006).

    Data Collection

    The data for this study was collected from a case study carried out in two
    group situations including 3-6-year-old children (five children in the first
    group and four in the second) in two separate kindergarten groups (2010).
    The classroom situations were conducted in the context of media production
    with participatory pedagogies, where children could decide the direction of
    the process by guiding actions and making choices. Media materials were pre-
    sented and offered at the beginning of the class by the researcher who partici-
    pated as an active observer during the whole process. Media materials inclu-
    ded short animations with music (1 minute) and coloring pictures of a media
    character presented in animation (examples of material: Sintonen, 2012b).

    Children were allowed to use media materials as they wished and act with
    them after the researcher was offered a chance to play with them and take pic-
    tures of this play. In Finnish early childhood education, the culture of action is
    often that children must ask permissions to act from the teacher (Karila &
    Kinos, 2012). For this reason the researcher gave room for the children’s initi-
    atives and suggestions by accepting them and asking the children to follow
    them. The children got excited about a chance to play freely with the materi-
    als, and they adopted their own media character and began to build their own
    meanings and create stories for these characters. During the process, the rese-
    archer participated in conversations and asked the children to tell about their
    media characters and their actions. The researcher also encouraged the chil-
    dren to go on with their media stories by listening to each child’s voice and
    asking questions about the story. The children’s conversations with the rese-
    archer and each other were recorded. The whole process was documented
    with two digital cameras and an audio recorder. This process of creating
    media stories included four steps from orientation and planning to action and
    story production as presented in Figure 1.


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    Figure 1. The pedagogy of digital story creation process was based on ready-made me-
    dia education materials available online (see Sintonen, 2012b)

    From a methodological point of view, this method comes near to the story-
    crafting methods (see Karlsson, 1998), where children willingly tell stories of
    their own choice. These are then written down by the adults. However, in this
    study children’s storytelling was part of their social interaction and other acti-
    vities in class. As shown by Van Deusen-Phillips et al. (2001), children’s stories
    are not only presented with spoken language, but also by activities, gestures,
    and interaction. In this study, we focus on how children express their agency
    and participation in a process of creating their own digital media stories in an
    early childhood education context.

    In this particular case, the ready-made media education materials were used
    as an inspiration for children – as a starting point for their own story creation
    and production. The media characters were first created in a rather traditio-
    nal method with colored pens on paper and then taped on the wall, which
    symbolized a movie screen. The idea of using the wall as a movie screen was
    suggested to the children by the researcher. That enabled them to take photos
    from their own characters as a part of the story. Children could move their
    characters and draw the story world and the actions on the screen. Figure 2
    gives an example of children using the movie-screen with their media-cha-


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    Figure 2. Children using the movie-screen during the process of media-production

    Children could build their stories freely; the story was told by moving, adding,
    and/or removing characters and other subjects from the story (see figure 2),
    but also by choosing different camera angles. In the process, it was important
    to allow the children to use the digital camera, select viewpoints and subjects,
    and to choose the digital pictures from camera for animation. Indeed, all digi-
    tal pictures were taken by children. Children could also use a computer to see
    the digital pictures they had taken, watch the short animation, and make an
    animation from digital pictures with movie-making software and the techni-
    cal help of the researcher. At the end of both sessions, the children went
    through their media stories with the educators and had a premiere of their
    animation. Digital cameras, computer, animation, as well as crafting materi-
    als for the making of media-characters were available for children during the
    process. The data from these two classroom sessions, contained one hour and
    thirty-four minutes of recorder audio-data and observation memos written by
    the researcher. Also the digital pictures taken by children were used together
    with audio-data and observations to help researcher monitoring the media
    production process.

    Analyze plan

    The recorded audio-data was first transcribed (the length of transcriptions
    was 35 pages of written text) and then analyzed by content analysis together
    with written observations by researcher. The method of content analyses fol-
    lowed Elo and Kyngäs (2008) and contains phases of preparation, organiza-
    tion, and reporting. First the data was encoded in ‘meanings’ that could
    include one word or the whole sentence. It was important that each meaning
    was an item or an issue that could be cut from the context. For example, a


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    quotation such as, “This will be yellow?” was coded with the meaning ‘choo-
    sing’ or “This lives in the jungle with its baby” was coded with the meaning,
    ‘creating story’. For example, an observation of “child refuses a color offered
    by a peer” was coded as ‘maintains previous choice.’ The quantity of each
    meaning was also counted and represented for clarifying the scale of mea-
    nings. The numbers of meanings have been presented in Tables 1 and 2 in the
    results section. The mentions were organized in sub-categories such as,
    ‘shows independent initiative’ or ‘shared experience’ and then organized in
    two categories in the contexts of ‘interpretations’ and ‘production.’ Finally,
    these main categories are reported below. The original pieces of conversa-
    tions as example of data were used to improve trustworthiness and clarity of


    Media production is considered as two connected, growing phenomena:
    ownership and participation. They emerged first in the interpretation phase
    and after children familiarized themselves with the subject. Their impact
    grew and during the process, strong participation and strong ownership beha-
    viors were identified (Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Growth of participation and ownership in process

    The interpretation phase began with children’s interpretation of the media
    character, including both participation and ownership building. In the pro-
    duction phase, children produced their own media material (e.g., objects, pla-
    ces, feelings and other story elements), which improved their ownership and
    created strong participatory experiences. The results are presented here wit-
    hin these two phases first on a general level and then, in both phases, as
    examples of participation and ownership.


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    Interpretation phase

    The media character was presented to children by a short video clip with
    music and still pictures of the character. The pedagogical idea was to support
    social cohesion at first, as sharing and belonging to the group are an impor-
    tant part of a child’s personal experiences of participation. In addition, instru-
    mental music without speech or any familiar song offered children an oppor-
    tunity to imagine and explain the character, and form suggestions for creating
    a story. At first, the children’s interpretations were mostly descriptive in
    regard to the appearance of the character and the sounds of the music. When
    encouraged by the researcher, who accepted all interpretations and even
    asked for more, the children accepted that there were no wrong answers and
    all explanations were supported, wherefore they brought out other explanati-
    ons. The children built their conceptions about the character rather quickly,
    and they described and analyzed the actions of the character at the resear-
    cher’s request. They were open to other ideas.

    The children’s interpretations were not only described in words, but also
    demonstrated by/with the character. Codes that were connected with the
    interpretations were found in 394 instances (64% of all 615 mentions). The
    majority of these were descriptions of the character (f=107) either to peers or
    to the researcher (Table 1). Examples of these quotations are shown here:

    Boy 4: “It plays something. Like it has something in its hand.”

    Girl 1: “It is like a clam”

    Girl 2: “I think it told us something . . . like peek-a-boo . . .”

    Girl 4: “It has music.”

    Girl 3: “This character has yellow hair, because otherwise it won’t see anyt-

    Researcher: “Do you mean that the yellow [hair] creates some light?”

    Girl 3: “Yes it creates!”


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    A total of 81 instances of children showing and demonstrating any item
    themselves were encoded from the data. In this interpretation phase, children
    also asked for the group member’s and the researcher’s acceptance of their
    choices and ideas: they asked questions and made suggestions about the
    details (f=43). A few of them pondered some problematic aspects of their cha-
    racter (f=9).

    Building ownership

    Characteristic of the actions connected with ownership were quotes that
    include expressions such as ‘Mine’ or ‘I have.’ At the beginning of class, chil-
    dren did not use those expressions, but soon they began to refer to a character
    as ‘my character.’ They also invented names for their character or used cha-
    racteristics of themselves to refer to the character.

    Girl 4: ‘Mine is not [ready] yet . . .’

    Researcher: ‘Can they exist in space . . . and sing and play and dance?’

    Girl 1: ‘Yes, they can, at least MINE can!’

    An important part of building ownership was naming the characters (f=20,
    Table 1). Children asked about the name of the character and after finding out
    it had none, they proposed suggestions. The conversation about naming the
    character began at the very beginning of class in both groups and children
    asked for support from the researcher and each other. In the first group, chil-
    dren decided early that the character should have a common name, while in
    the other they negotiated and discussed the names for a long time during
    coloring and creating the appearance of the character and its attributes.

    TA B L E 1 I N T E R P R E T A T I O N S P H A S E

    Interpretations about material and process f % of all mentions

    Descripts the appearance of characters 107 15,6%

    Shows or demonstrates character’s actions 81 11,8%

    Describes character’s actions 45 6,5%

    Ponders character 9 1,3%

    Suggests or asks about character 43 6,3%

    Names character 20 2,9%

    Shows independent initiative 34 4,9%

    Maintains on previous choice 55 8,0%

    Total 394 64,1%


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    Boy 4: “I don’t like that.”

    Girl 4: “What was your suggestion, Girl2? Do you have one yet?”

    Girl 2: “Everyone could have a different name for it. Any name that you

    Girl 2: “What if we all had a different name?”

    After this proposal, children began to choose names for their characters. First,
    they thought about their favorite media characters (such as Hello Kitty or
    Mickey Mouse) or names that described the colors of the character (such as
    Rose). The names also changed a few times during the class.

    Boy 2: “Mine is not Bubble; it’s Tassu!”

    Girl 4: “Have you found a name for it, Boy 4?”

    Boy 4: “No . . . No wait! It is Mickey Mouse! Yes. It is a friend of yours
    [points out researcher’s microphone, which has two microphone foams as

    In the other group, a common name was invented and decided upon after a
    few suggestions, before the children even began to color their characters. The
    name, ‘Hokare’, which means nothing in any known language of these chil-
    dren, was decided on even though there were some opposing opinions.
    However, the name finally stuck with the character and the children began to
    refer to their character as, ‘My Hokare.’

    Building participation

    The researcher actively created participatory experiences. At the very begin-
    ning of the class, children were more uncertain and tried to look for the right
    answers to the researcher’s questions about the media character. They lear-
    ned quickly that all stories were accepted, adopted, and supported. They
    seemed to understand the nature of the class and began to participate in its
    playful activities.

    Independent initiatives (f=34, Table 1) about character appearances and other
    aspects were initially an important part of the participatory activities. Chil-
    dren also stayed their own choices at the beginning of the class (f=55, Table
    1), as in the first quote. Later they also supported others’ participation, as in
    the second quote, when they experienced that the researcher supported these
    participatory interactions between them.

    Girl 2: “How about drawing some hair . . .?”


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    Researcher: “That is a good idea. One could because there is none in this
    picture. You could choose what kind of hair it has.”

    Boy 4: “I’d want you to make it . . . like a picture.”

    Girl 2: “We could make . . . draw other things for them.”

    Boy 4: “Together?”

    Researcher: “Good idea. We could draw here on the big paper things that
    your characters could be interested in.”

    Production phase

    A total of 221 mentions were connected with the second phase of action; pro-
    ducing media materials that were found from the data (Table 2). This consti-
    tuted 36% of all mentions (F=615).

    First, the children produced their media material only as a coloring activity,
    but soon began to build and interpret their character in terms of narrative.
    Their storytelling actions (f=51) grew and they no longer talked about the
    colors or other attributes. They began to build a relationship with the cha-
    racters: they talked about the characters and explained their choices as if they
    were their characters’ choices. These actions brought the media characters
    alive and the children seemed to experience that the characters were partici-
    pating in their play. They talked and acted on behalf of their character. Table
    2 shows the different productive actions of the children during the class.

    After the characters were finished, children added them to the movie screen
    and began to build a world for the character. The two groups had different
    reactions in this regard. In the first, a child shared an idea that the character
    had come from outer space and they produced space materials i.e., rockets,

    TA B L E 2 P R O D U C T I O N P H A S E

    Production of media materials f % of all mentions

    Produce a story 51 7,4%%

    Find a contradiction from story or character 6 0,9%%

    Negotiate or decide 33 4,8%

    Explain a choice 29 4,2%

    Improve ownership 72 10,5%

    Support participation of another 73 10,6%

    Share joy or share a choice 30 4,4%

    Total 221 35,9%


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    planets, and space travelling gear. In the second group, each child began to
    build her/his own world and a story for the character. In this group, everyday
    issues like the home of the character as well as traveling were discussed.

    Improving Ownership

    From the data, 72 mentions were found of children building their ownership
    of the character. Mentions referring to improving ownership were mostly
    found from the second half of the classes in both groups; this was the point at
    which children began to strongly refer to their character as “mine” or “my cha-
    racter.” Ownership referred not only to the character, but also to the movie
    screen, which was called “our movie” and digital pictures “my picture” or “I will
    take a picture.” Children also recognized their own media character from the
    digital pictures and from an animation built during the class from pictures by

    Boy 5: “I know my own. I can recognize them.”

    Girl 2: “I know my own [character] . . . it told me it doesn’t want to be

    The children asked several times if they could keep their character after the
    class. They also suggested that the researcher could have a copy of the digital
    pictures taken during the class. In this case, these signals might reflect a feeling
    of strong ownership. Interestingly, children did not seem to build such strong
    ownership towards the animation, though they watched it willingly and were
    excited about the show. Only one child was more interested in making anima-
    tion. He wanted to discuss it after the group had watched it and felt displaced
    when not all his pictures were in the animation. After a negotiation, the child
    suggested a conclusion:

    Boy 4: “Why weren’t all of my whale [pictures] in there [animation]?”

    Researcher: “Are there more? Maybe they are still in here [camera].“

    Boy 4: “No worries . . . we shall make a second part . . . a whale part.”

    Researcher: “A second part of the movie?”

    Boy 4: “Yes. My movie.”

    Strong participation

    Joy and inner motivation are important parts of children’s participation in
    early childhood education. Both groups had many laughs, excitement, and
    shared experiences during the classroom activities. Children seemed to enjoy


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    this activity and – according to the observations -were involved the entire
    time (about 45 minutes per group).

    Boy 3: “My Hokare is here . . . boo! [laughs]!”

    Boy 4: “Here is the cockpit . . .”

    Researcher: “Oh yes, yes. Aren’t passengers allowed to go there?”

    [Boy 3 and Girl 1 laugh]

    Girl 1: “No, but you can . . .”

    Boy 3: “You are a driver!”

    Researcher: “Oh, . . . ok.”

    Boy 3: “Mine [cockpit] is sooo big, that there can be several drivers.”

    Boy 4: “My Hokare drives this rocket on its own.”

    They asked for opinions, supported other ideas, and built their stories on pre-
    vious stories. They expressed their participation with spoken interpretations
    and stories, physical activity, and by production of their own and shared media
    materials. Choices, wishes, and shared decisions were all connected with their
    media materials. Children also helped each other and built their participation
    by asking others’ opinions (f=33) and taking their initiatives forward (f=40,
    Table 2). In their media-content production process, children needed to make
    choices alone and then share them with peers. They described and explained
    their actions actively to each other as well but also to the researcher, and sha-
    red ideas with others. The quote below contains an example of individual sto-
    rytelling (Boy 3) and a shared decision, because the children decided to conti-
    nue their stories together (Girls 4 and 2):

    Boy 3: “Mine own had to go to the island and then it found a treasure
    [draws a treasure map with an X].”

    Girl 4: “Come, Girl 2 . . . these [characters] could go play together!”

    Girl 2: “Good idea . . . let’s do that!”

    Shared joy (f=30, Table 2) inspired children to produce more ideas. Some phy-
    sical activity was involved; children also expressed their interests bodily:

    Boy 2: “Tassu [Paw] would come visiting . . . [takes a character and goes to
    visit another].”


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    Girl 2: “They could dance together . . . [takes peer by the hand and both
    begin to dance].”

    Boy 3: “They fly with their planes . . . [makes a paper plane and shows how
    it flies].”

    Participation was also strongly visible in shared interactions in both group
    cultural contexts. Children interpreted and acted as a group. They noticed
    and kept up initiatives and ideas of their peers. On the other hand, children
    also doubted or even rejected ideas they did not find interesting.


    Observations show that children viewed digital materials in the same way as
    any items or objects of play and action in the kindergarten group. Even if this
    was the first time for both groups to have a computer and digital cameras
    available during pedagogical or class activity, they stated that they had used
    both devices at home. The video of the character was available to the children
    as well as the digital cameras, and children adopted them as an element of
    their activity. Children adopted digital cameras as a part of storytelling, crea-
    ted their media characters swiftly, and asked their peers to take pictures of
    them while working with their characters. They also took pictures of their
    own media characters.

    In the first group participating and taking photos was part of children’s play –
    also when they used toy cameras (old cameras without batteries or film) in
    the activity. Taking digital photos and videos was therefore considered as a
    kind of media play for children, even though they disagreed when they lear-
    ned that ‘pictures’ from the old cameras could not be loaded in the computer
    for the movie. Taking pictures was a form of play, but also a motivating acti-
    vity that gave the children an opportunity to document class activities and use
    them as a part of their storytelling.

    Girl 1: “What can we do with that computer?”

    Researcher: “We can load your pictures about these drawings here from
    the camera into computer.”

    They recognized their characters and parts of the story from the computer
    screen. Conversations, negotiations, and suggestions were also given and
    taken when a movie with digital tools was constructed at the end of the class.
    Children were excited about the movie and shared an idea to make the class-
    room a theater. They ‘sold’ tickets to the premier and commented actively on
    animation, as the quote below shows. The animation was viewed several


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    times and in the first group children suggested, that they could dance with
    their media characters when watching animation.

    Researcher: “Now the movie begins.”

    Girl 4:”I’ll watch!”

    [Children laugh, giggle, talk, and comment on the movie all together]:
    Look, that’s mine! Where did it go? Is that yours?

    Boy 4: “What is this? . . . I didn’t see it.”

    Girl 2:”It jumps . . . only has one foot.”


    This study shows that young children are committed to and very interested in
    creating their own media content (digital animations in this case), if they are
    guided through the creation process with the possibility of participatory
    actions. Children were given a picture of a media character as a starting point,
    but children themselves created the whole story and content around the cha-
    racter. This study concerning ownership and participation shows positive
    aspects of small children’s media production competence in interpreting and
    producing media, especially digital stories. On a more general level stories are
    very naturally link digital culture production and children’s own thinking
    (Klerfelt, 2006). Since the process of learning is considered through a socio-
    cultural learning paradigm (see Plowman & al. 2010), media could also be
    considered as a two-way interaction, where children not only absorb informa-
    tion, but also create and produce their own media in interaction (Prout, 2005).
    In this study, children seemed to develop strong ownership of their media cha-
    racter and the stories built among them. Children created meaning for their
    media characters and stories about them in interaction with their peers and
    media. Media devices and technology were not the focus of action, but they
    provided an opportunity to document and share media material. Children
    used this opportunity willingly during the class, and discussed and negotiated
    the process of taking and viewing digital pictures.

    The children’s joy and excitement was visible as they laughed and were acti-
    vely involved in the action. The activities and issues they talked about concer-
    ned positive participation processes with issues of: decision-making; sharing;
    expressing initiatives; and negotiation. Participation seems to create motiva-
    tion and involvement among children, which can be considered by Rogoff
    (2003) as social learning. Rogoff ’s concept of learning is based on communi-
    cation and social interaction, but also on observation and participation in
    ongoing processes. These results are in line with results on young children’s
    participation in Finnish early childhood education (Venninen & Leinonen,


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    2013) and support earlier research (Sintonen, 2012a) of children adopting the
    element of digital agency through creative, action-oriented processes with
    adult guidance and support. In this research, classroom educators did not plan
    the actions in advance, but the researcher, who acted as an active observer,
    supported children’s initiations. As found before in Emilson’s and Folkesson’s
    (2006) study, children need support for participation and therefore the results
    of this research give new understanding of children’s digital learning and pro-
    ductive participation.

    Children’s self-initiated actions in this study were considered as a base for
    strong participation. These actions were conducted and taken forward by
    children and the researcher in shared experiences; they are part of participa-
    tion in early childhood education settings (Smith, 2002; Venninen & Leino-
    nen, 2013). Since the teachers do not feel as competent with digital media as
    do children who are so-called digital natives, this approach helps educators
    and children create meaningful learning experiences together (Klerfelt, 2006;
    Prensky, 2012). Re-conceptualizing pedagogical planning and implementa-
    tion from a ‘to children’ approach to a ‘with children’ approach (see Zeven-
    bergen, 2007; Leinonen & Venninen, 2012) requires reflection on the para-
    digms of learning and conception of the child as an active agent of his or her
    own learning and development.

    Using and producing media is an activity that fits well in the pedagogical lear-
    ning environment in early childhood education settings in Finland. As has
    been shown, it creates interaction (in action per se) between children and the
    teacher as well peer-to-peer interaction. Using media devices offers opportu-
    nities to document activities and to process them from a child’s perspective
    instead of only collecting production or viewing learning from the teacher’s
    point of view. Documentation has given an instrument for the educator to
    analyze the issues that actually take place in everyday situations and educati-
    onal processes (Dalberg et al., 1999). When also conducted by children, the
    documentation is deeper and educators can acquire children’s perspectives
    and adopt them in their pedagogical planning.

    Digital production is a creative, communicative activity, which could bridge
    the gap between education and media (Klerfelt, 2006). In media education,
    critical issues such as equal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and
    knowledge that will prepare children for full participation in the digital world
    should be guaranteed (see Jenkins & al. 2006), also in the context of early edu-
    cation. Young children should be helped to confront the media and its model
    of the world and approached as digital content creators and participants. In
    this research, children were very committed to using digital tools (cameras)
    and showed interest in turning created stories into movies. In this case pro-
    ductive participation means children also affected the creation phases, the
    ways that media tools were used, and the situation of viewing the animation.
    Productive participation requires negotiations and shared decision-making.
    The future media landscape of these children might be filled with communi-


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    cative acts on many levels (Prout, 2005). For example, social media is actually
    about mutual recognition; media is no longer a one-way communication.
    According to Heinonen and Halonen (2007), recognition includes all positive
    feedback that an individual receives from being connected to a community.
    An important part of childhood media education is children and young peo-
    ple creating their own content with their own conditions – teaching and lear-
    ning through media. This does not exclude the need for teaching about or with
    the media (Buckingham 2003). In the learning processes the three gaps of
    media education: Transparency of media materials, ethical challenges of
    social media and participation gap as present by Jenkins & al. (2006) should be
    taken account. Teachers can facilitate and enable children’s learning by provi-
    ding productive and interactive participation processes, but they must be
    aware of media education practices in early childhood education settings and
    consider and reflect upon their pedagogics to ensure that children have equal
    access to use and produce media. When supporting children’s participation in
    media, these critical aspects could also be included in goals of learning, to be
    discussed and practiced together with peers and teachers. Though this kind of
    concept of critical media education with young children raises new questions
    of values and democracy education, these should be answered in future rese-

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    International Journal of Inclusive Education

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    Illuminating young children’s perceived notions of
    inclusion in pedagogical activities

    Patricia A. Shaw, Kyriaki Messiou & Chronoula Voutsina

    To cite this article: Patricia A. Shaw, Kyriaki Messiou & Chronoula Voutsina (2021) Illuminating
    young children’s perceived notions of inclusion in pedagogical activities, International Journal of
    Inclusive Education, 25:4, 499-516, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2018.1563642

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    Illuminating young children’s perceived notions of inclusion in
    pedagogical activities
    Patricia A. Shaw a, Kyriaki Messiou b and Chronoula Voutsina b

    aFaculty of Arts, Culture and Education, School of Education and Social Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, UK;
    bSouthampton Education School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

    This paper presents findings from a research study, which sought to
    illuminate the perceived notions of inclusion of four to five year old
    children in pedagogical activities, in the early years classes of two
    schools in the North of England. It employed a qualitative
    methodology to gather extensive data with forty children over a
    six-week period in each school. This included collecting fieldnotes;
    undertaking observations of children in pedagogical activities; and
    conducting group and individual interviews. Central to the
    research aim was the use of participative tools to engage with
    children’s voices; these included photographs and drawings.
    Children’s perceived notions of inclusion resonated with two
    dimensions: belonging and relationships (with practitioner and/or
    child) and democratic pedagogies. The findings advance the
    conceptualisation of the notion of inclusion and bring to the fore
    the voices of a young group of children that has not been studied
    before. Engaging with children in meaningful ways can enable
    practitioners to better understand young children’s perceived,
    multi-faceted notions of inclusion as they experience it within
    pedagogical activities.

    Received 26 March 2018
    Accepted 15 December 2018

    Engaging with voices; early
    years; inclusion; belonging
    and relationships; democratic

  • Introduction
  • Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989)
    conveys the notion of engaging with children’s voices and espouses the ethos of listening.
    It states that all children have the right to express their views and that they will be heeded,
    and moves towards engaging with children’s views as ‘a moral perspective on the role and
    status of children which respects and promotes their entitlement to being considered as
    persons of value and persons with rights’ (Greene and Hill 2005, 3). However, MacNaugh-
    ton, Hughes, and Smith (2007, 458) connote that there is ‘little empirical evidence to
    support the contention that consulting young children is valuable’ – a view that reflects
    the scarcity of research with young children. Possible reasons for this lack of engagement
    with young children are that ‘[T]they have been regarded as undeveloped, lacking even
    basic capacities for understanding, communicating and making choices’ (Office of the
    High Commissioner for Human Rights 2005, 7).

    © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

    CONTACT Patricia A. Shaw Faculty of Arts, Culture and Education, School of Education
    and Social Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, HU6 7RX, UK

    2021, VOL. 25, NO. 4, 499–516

    This research contests the perspective that young children lack the capacity to express
    opinions about their inclusion in educational experiences, and it reflects Allan’s (2007)
    premise that the voices of those who have the most direct experience of inclusion must be
    present. It responds to, and challenges, the constant theme of powerlessness and exclusion
    felt by children, and reflects Messiou’s (2006, 40) view that children are ‘considered as one of
    the marginalised groups whose voices have been neglected within inclusive education.’ Since
    themajority ofchildren consulted inresearch, have beenin their formalyears of schooling or
    older (Children and Young People’s Unit 2004), it emphasises the importance of affording
    the voices of younger children the same prominence as older children.

  • Research aim
  • The research aim for this study was to illuminate children’s perceived notions of inclusion
    in pedagogical activities in the Reception class (children aged four to five years in their first
    year of formal schooling). This was explored through the research question: In what ways
    do children perceive pedagogical activities as promoting or hindering inclusion in the
    Reception class? It was conducted in the Reception classes of an infant and a primary
    school in the North of England. Pedagogical activities are defined as the instructional tech-
    niques and strategies that enable learning to take place, and which provide opportunities
    for the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes within a particular social context
    (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002).

    Regarding pedagogy, different theories underpin or contribute to a country’s pedago-
    gical principles. Within the practice and observable pedagogy in England’s early years edu-
    cation, Stephen (2010, 18) refers to two ‘big ideas’. The first is concerned with provision
    that is child-centred and offers children opportunities to choose how to spend their time;
    the second emphasises play as the medium through which children learn. However, an
    exploration of the literature surrounding the quality of early years education in England
    (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002), reveals that these ‘big ideas’ are not sufficiently emphasised
    in curriculum documents such as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (DfE 2014).
    Indeed, the EYFS refers to the need to move towards more adult-led activities, so that chil-
    dren can be ‘prepare(d) for the more formal learning of Year 1’ (DfE 2014, 9).

    In seeking children’s perceptions of inclusion, the study was designed to reflect the shift
    in acknowledging the importance of children’s voices within English legislation (Edu-
    cational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice: 0–25 years, DfE 2015) and to
    evaluate its findings in relation to international policies and legislation. It advances the
    conceptualisation of the notion of inclusion and brings to the fore the voices of a
    young group of children that has not been studied before.

  • Principles of inclusion
  • Contested and complex issues exist within the discourse concerning inclusion (Florian
    2008). Campbell (2002) describes the key aspects of the inclusion debate as being a
    balance between individual needs and those of the majority; the active participation of
    pupils; an ongoing process; and its relation to exclusion. Some, even suggest that inclusion
    has become something of a cliché (Thomas and Loxley 2007), ‘an international buzzword’
    (Benjamin 2002, viii) devoid of meaning. Slee (1998) argues that inclusion can often

    500 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

    connote a linguistic adjustment that provides a politically correct response to a changing
    world. Hence, inclusion has come to mean different things to different people, different
    things at different points in time, and different things in different locations (Ainscow,
    Booth, and Dyson 2006), or a ‘semantic chameleon’ (Liasidou 2012, 5). This creates pos-
    sibilities for inclusion to become a unique picture across different settings, a rather ‘elusive’
    idea (Ainscow 1999) situated in a weakened position without clarity and transparency.
    Slee (2001), in concurrence with Dyson’s (1999) reference to ‘inclusions’, suggests that
    people place their own lens on their justification of inclusion.

    This paper locates inclusion within the following principles: responding to the diverse
    needs of all children through increased participation (Booth and Ainscow 2004); sharing
    power more equally between adult and child (Blenkinsop 2005); and belonging and
    relationships (O’Brien and Forest 1989). The first two principles were intrinsic to the
    design of the study by including all the children in the data collection. Messiou (2017),
    in her analysis of published articles in the International Journal of Inclusive Education
    between 2005 and 2015, highlights that most studies in the field of inclusive education
    are only concerned with certain groups of learners. She argues that concentrating on
    specific groups of children, rather than on all, is at odds with the ideologies of inclusion.

    By acknowledging the importance of participation in empowering children as learners,
    the study enabled children to express their ideas and opinions and develop a positive sense
    of self (Bruce 2001). Consequently, the final principle became noteworthy since within an
    early years context, there is an association between children’s developing sense of self and
    identity, and belonging. This acknowledges children’s interdependence with others and
    forms the basis of relationships in defining identities (Department of Education Employ-
    ment and Workforce Relations 2009).

  • Belonging and relationships
  • The prominence of belonging for young children has been formalised in curriculum docu-
    ments such as New Zealand’s Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education 1996) and Australia’s
    Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework (Department of
    Education Employment and Workforce Relations 2009). Yet, within the English curricula
    (DfE 2014), there is no specific mention of belonging.

    Baumeister and Leary’s (1995) belongingness hypothesis defines belonging as the extent
    to which individuals feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others
    in their social environment. Connections between belonging and inclusion are emphasised
    by the subjectivity of experiences and central to their understanding are the thoughts, feel-
    ings and experiences of children (Schwandt 1997). Belonging can therefore be experienced
    in diverse and multiple ways that vary from person to person (Yuval-Davis 2006), and
    thus, it may be represented as multidimensional and complex – belongings rather than
    belonging. Just as inclusion is not a fixed state (Booth and Ainscow 2004), neither is
    belonging; rather it is a dynamic process (Sumsion and Wong 2011).

  • Democratic pedagogies
  • Moss (2007) attests that inclusion can also be viewed through the lens of democracy, since
    its presence in early education and care provides possibilities for diversity to flourish.


    However, just as there is no reference to belonging in the English early years curricula (DfE
    2014), he concedes that there is also no mention of democracy, despite it being explicitly
    recognised as a value in other early years curricula (e.g. Nordic countries). The implication
    is that democracy is not foregrounded in English governmental policy, despite it being
    identified as important for ensuring that values are shared by all and that everyone is
    able to voice their views on issues that matter to them (Cagliari, Barozzi, and Giudici

    By acknowledging a child’s agency in their learning, children should be afforded auton-
    omy since they are the one who cause things to happen (Rathbone 1971). Candy (1991)
    refers to learner autonomy as a perennial dynamic process amenable to educational inter-
    ventions rather than a static product, which is strongly aligned with Ainscow’s (2005)
    principle of inclusion as an on-going process. Rathbone’s view of the learner as an
    active agent, however, appears to underestimate the influence of power within the learning
    process. Blaise and Ryan (2012) examine whose agency, power and interests are exercised
    or marginalised in these instances. Although the communication of agency may occur in
    multiple ways through children’s engagement in a range of activities, it may also be articu-
    lated as the freedom to make choices. However, freedom does not always place children in
    control, nor are they always empowered (Wood 2014). Thus, it becomes important to con-
    sider how children can be incorporated within dialogue about the development of more
    inclusive environments.

    Engaging with children’s voices

    In recent years, perspectives of childhood have challenged the assumptions about chil-
    dren’s inability to make decisions in their own best interests (Turnbull, Fattore, and
    Calder 2008). James and James (2008) recognise children’s agency as that which affords
    them opportunity to shape and negotiate aspects of their childhood. However, the basis
    for reference to children having authority over their voice is an assumption that they
    possess one homogenous voice or culture (Woodhead 2009). Some researchers (Levin
    1994; Ritala-Koskinen 1994) argue that children do not live as one cultural grouping
    and that there is no single concept of childhood. This suggests that different children
    may have contradictory wishes and expectations, all of which are equally valid and to
    which one should listen accordingly. Nutbrown and Clough (2009) acknowledge that
    whilst it may be difficult to respond to these diverse voices, changes in practices and set-
    tings can make the place more inclusive and enabling for all who attend.

    The importance of engaging in dialogue with children themselves is emphasised here,
    which can be helpful in revealing issues surrounding perceptions of inclusion. However,
    the term voice is itself problematic since it does not always retain the same meaning.
    Hadfield and Haw (2001) purport that voice has become such a broadly used term that
    it is in danger of losing much of its specific meaning as it becomes disconnected from
    the different theoretical sources and critical praxis from which it originated. Komulainen
    (2007) concurs, emphasising that voice can become sensationalised, whilst assuming that
    adults can exchange and match children’s thoughts to different situations. Therefore, the
    concept ‘engaging with voices’ (Cruddas 2007) is adopted, which operates within a socially
    constructed space, promoting the analysis of both child and adult voices and avoiding an
    over reliance on adult ways of listening to children.

    502 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

    Concerns about engaging with children’s voices are particularly evident within the
    early years. Article 12 of the UNCRC (1989) refers to giving due weight to children’s
    voices, however, it is couched in the ambiguous language of being in accordance with
    the age and maturity of a child who is capable of forming his or her own views. This
    exemplifies the lack of understanding of how young children can express their views.
    Malaguzzi (1993) informs that children have a hundred languages such as playing, think-
    ing or speaking, all of which enable the understanding of the endless number of chil-
    dren’s potentials. Therefore, the affordance of opportunities that are genuine and
    meaningful in engaging with children’s voices need to be developed, to provide a mul-
    titude of means by which they might communicate (Clark, McQuail, and Moss 2003).
    The inclusion of young children’s voices in research necessitates the utilisation of suitable
    methods and methodologies that are capable of empowering children to share their lived
    experiences and perspectives.

    Children’s understanding of inclusion

    Since abstract concepts such as inclusion are inherently difficult to discuss with young
    children, the children were informed of the study’s research aims using pictures of
    different pedagogical activities. These images depicted children learning in different
    environments, with their peers and/or with a teacher, and in differing pedagogical activi-
    ties. During discussions it emerged that the children connected inclusion with notions of
    knowing what to do (Hedges and Cullen 2012), being able to play with their friends (Booth
    and Ainscow 2004), and with the teacher helping the children to learn (Jordan 2004).

  • Methodology and research design
  • A qualitative methodological approach to data collection was adopted that operates within
    a constructivist and interpretivist paradigm, where categories and meaning are socially
    constructed (Bryman 2012). Consideration was given to issues of consent, assent and
    dissent (Dockett, Perry, and Kearney 2012).

    All children in the Reception classes were invited to participate in the research. On
    receipt of parental consent, 21 children at Riverside Infants (RI) and 19 children at Oak
    Ridge Primary (ORP) partook in the study. The use of pseudonyms for the children
    and schools ensures anonymity. The collection of data during a three-month period facili-
    tated the researcher’s relationships with the children and enabled them to feel more at ease
    when engaging in conversations about the research. Additionally, discussions around
    assent and dissent were conducted with the children to ensure that ethical principles
    were maintained throughout. The presentation of data from 14 children across both
    schools, and which are representative of a wider range of children’s perceptions of
    inclusion, illustrate the key themes.

    Research tools

    To explore notions of inclusion in greater depth, a range of methods were employed, all of
    which are included within this paper. These were unstructured (UO) and structured
    observations of pedagogical activities using the Leuven Involvement Scale (LIS) (Laevers


    1994); semi-structured group interviews using diamond ranking (DR); and drawing activi-
    ties with individual children (I).

    Participant unstructured and structured observations using the LIS (focusing on central
    indicators of quality in early years’ provision – children’s well-being and involvement),
    were adopted as suitable data collection instruments for research with young children
    (Rolfe, Freshwater, and Jasper 2001). The LIS was utilised since Laevers asserts that if
    interactions are secure, children’s well-being will enable them to become stronger and
    inform adults about their feelings and emotions; this could ultimately affect their percep-
    tions of inclusion. Both forms of observations facilitated the collection of detailed and
    extended contextual information that offered rich data about children’s engagement
    with both their learning environment and their peers.

    Group interviews
    Following four weeks of observations, group interviews were undertaken during which
    discussions about the inclusion of children in pictures comprising different pedagogical
    activities ensued. Children were asked to order photographs of different pedagogical
    activities occurring in each school in a diamond ranking activity, according to which
    ones they felt most included. Diamond ranking is a thinking skills tool (Rockett and Per-
    cival 2002) where items representing a spread of perspectives are sorted and ranked in a
    diamond fashion, with the most important at the top and the most unimportant at the
    bottom. Its strength lies in the premise that when people rank items, they are required
    to make explicit, the rationale for how they are organised through the process of discus-
    sion, reflection and negotiation with other group members (Clark 2012).

    Interviews were documented on a digital recorder, and were employed as ‘a flexible tool
    for data collection, enabling multi-sensory channels to be used: verbal, non-verbal, spoken
    and heard’ (Cohen, Manion, and Morrison 2007, 349). Photographs were selected as an
    instrument to evoke deeper responses, thoughts, feelings and memories from the children
    (Collier 1957), rather than tools which rely on more traditional modes of communication.
    Creative visual methods can be helpful in addressing the underrepresentation of children
    in research (Boxall and Ralph 2009), challenging traditional adult-controlled power
    dynamics and equalising power relationship between researchers and children.

    Children’s drawings
    The final data collection tool involved the use of drawings during individual interviews.
    This enabled children to consider further, the questions asked in the group interviews,
    and assist them in reflecting and processing any emotions or thoughts that may have
    arisen (Picard, Brechet, and Baldy 2007). Drawings can also assist adults in understanding
    children’s perceptions, thoughts and experiences (Dockett and Perry 2005). Additionally,
    drawing is often very successful as it forms part of the fun and relaxing everyday experi-
    ences of children (Fargas-Malet et al. 2010) and minimises the power relationship between
    researcher and child (Smart 2009).

    However, their interpretation can be problematic as there is a danger of projecting
    adults’ perspectives onto children’s drawings (Angelides and Michaelidou 2009).
    Responding to Jameson’s (1968) suggestion that the description of a drawing after its

    504 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

    completion can be misleading, the researcher sat near the children so that she could hear
    them talking, which offered the possibility of a different perspective.

    Data analysis

    On completion of the data collection, transcription occurred for all interviews and obser-
    vational data and facial expressions and body language were noted. An inductive approach
    to coding was adopted, in which the researcher allows the theory to emerge from the data
    (Strauss and Corbin 1994), by considering the frequent, dominant, or significant themes
    inherent in raw data, without the restraints imposed by structured methodologies
    (Thomas 2006). The stages of coding were: preparation of raw data; close reading of
    data; creation of categories; overlapping, merging and deleting of codes; and creation of
    themes and dimensions. A thorough analysis of the data revealed that some codes were
    similar, such as ‘being kind’ and ‘children are friendly’. In these cases, codes were
    merged into categories, so long as the codes were not distorted in the process. Addition-
    ally, close attention was paid to children’s words and body language regarding their per-
    ception of the promotion or hindrance of inclusion. The final analysis stage revealed a
    connection between some of the categories (e.g. ‘I can do the work’ and ‘cos I don’t
    need any help’), which led to the creation of key themes (e.g. Independent achievement)
    and subsequent dimensions (Table 1).

  • Findings and discussion
  • Inductive data analysis led to the identification of two dimensions: belonging and relation-
    ships; and democratic pedagogies.

    Belonging and relationships

    Two areas that children identified as important to their inclusion in pedagogical activities,
    and which relate to belonging and relationships, are Collaboration and Feeling Alone. Col-
    laboration is significant, since children from both schools commented that they perceived
    themselves to be included when they were working with, or learning from, another. This
    indicates a connection with another person, or a sense of belonging. The relationship
    between inclusion and collaboration is emphasised by children’s comments about how
    they perceived themselves to be included when they could work with another child or
    practitioner ‘Cos I like playing football with George’ (ORP I Jacob); ‘Working with
    other people’ (RI I Olivia). Furthermore, some commented that they perceived themselves
    as less included when they had to work on their own, ‘Because no-one’s with me’ (ORP I
    Evelyn), which resonates with the notion of feeling alone.

    A remark made by Scarlet (RI I) provides a thought-provoking comment on which to
    reflect. She mentioned that she ‘feeled alone’ when she was unable to play with other chil-
    dren. Observations of other children, such as Aiden (ORP), who displayed high levels of
    well-being and involvement whenever he was playing with other children (UO), reinforce
    the connection between inclusion and belonging. When using the construction equip-
    ment, Aiden (LIS) was observed being spontaneous and expressive; energetic; and persist-
    ing with the activity.


    Some children extended their perception of inclusion beyond simply working with
    other children to working with specific children or friends. By selecting particular children
    with whom to work, children in the study demonstrated the importance they placed on the
    formation of relationships. James (RI I), for example, drew pictures that revealed he per-
    ceived himself to be included when he was with his friend (Figure 1) and not included
    when he was on his own (Figure 2).

    An interview with Scarlet (RI I) reaffirms the importance placed on relationships. She
    explained that she did not perceive herself to be included, ‘But sometimes I really don’t’
    because ‘my friends were mean to me’. In her drawing (Figure 3), Scarlet depicts her
    friends smiling, however, the picture of herself initially had a smiling mouth, but she
    later altered it to a sad one, explaining ‘Cos I’m not happy’. Whilst happy does not necess-
    arily equate with not being included, when coalesced with Scarlet’s comments about
    feeling alone and being excluded from an activity by her friends, the argument is

    Luke (ORP DR), who perceived himself to be included when he was working individu-
    ally with a teacher, explicates the importance of the relationship between child and prac-
    titioner. ‘Cos I like working with the teacher to do my handwriting, cos if the teacher
    shows.’ An observation of Luke listening to the teacher during a large group activity in
    a similar area, strengthens this interpretation, since he displayed little emotion; was dis-
    tracted; had limited energy; and made only slight progress (LIS). Whilst the observation
    and interview cannot emphatically conclude that Luke’s relationship with the teacher
    influenced his perception of inclusion, it is important not to let the uncertainty detract
    from Luke’s actual words and opinions.

    Henry’s (RI I) comment, ‘it’s so long to choose me’ reaffirms this interpretation, and
    extends it to consider the impact of the proximity to a practitioner and the lack of indi-
    vidual attention, to his perception of inclusion. An observation comes from Henry in a
    large group mathematics lesson. His facial expressions and actions indicated he was ill
    at ease; did not join in with the activity; showed no interest at all; and began to disrupt
    the lesson (LIS). However, when an adult closely supported Henry during a large group

    Table 1. Emergent key themes and subsequent dimensions.

    Theme 1: Promoting inclusion Theme 2: Hindering inclusion
    of inclusion

    . Choosing who to work with;
    . Watching and learning from others.

    Feeling Alone
    . Not having the opportunity to

    play/work with other children;
    . Being left out by specific children.

    Belonging and

    Children’s individuality and difference
    . Choosing what they want to do;
    . Choosing how they want to learn

    (group, individual);
    . Choosing the subject matter.
    Environmental context
    . Being able to behave/speak differently

    in the outdoor environment
    Independent achievement
    . Being able to complete

    work independently

    Lack of interest in the activity
    . Finding the work boring;
    . Learning taking too long;
    . Not liking the subject matter
    Sensorial experiences
    . Not liking to go outside because it

    is cold and wet;
    . The noise level is too loud in the classroom
    Unsure of the activity
    . Not knowing what to do and who to ask
    Difficulty of the activity
    . Feeling worried if they do not know

    how to do the work


    506 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

    activity, at its inception, he displayed negative facial expressions and his arms were
    crossed, but later he talked to the adult next to him, raised his hand to ask and answer
    questions and was not distracted by the children around him (LIS). These external beha-
    viours are interpreted as increased inclusion in the pedagogical activity, which indicates
    that the proximity, or ability to speak to a practitioner, is an important dimension in deter-
    mining a child’s perception of inclusion.

    These examples personify the importance that children placed on working or playing in
    collaboration with others, which resonates strongly with the tenet of inclusion and

    Figure 1. James’s drawing of a pedagogical activity in which he perceives himself to be included.

    Figure 2. James’s drawing of a pedagogical in which he does not perceive himself to be included.


    participation (Booth and Ainscow 2004). They exemplify Baumeister and Leary’s (1995)
    theory of a sense of belonging, described as the extent to which individuals feel personally
    accepted, respected, included and supported by others in their social environment. It is
    contended that this definition also reflects the principles of inclusion; if others accept a
    child within their pedagogical activities, it is conceivable that the child might perceive
    themselves as more included.

    The findings are similar to those of Allodi Westling (2002), Einarsdottir (2010), and
    Kragh-Müller and Isbell (2011), who report that children need to build friendships and
    to play with peers to be able to thrive. They resonate strongly with Malaguzzi’s (1993)
    description of an education based on relationships that emphasise socially embedded pro-
    cesses, and as the emotional connections occurring through both verbal and non-verbal
    social interactions among children, and between children and practitioners (Joerdens
    2014). Similarly, Lundqvist, Westling Allodi, and Siljehag (2018) report that for children
    to maintain and develop positive experiences of early school years, they value and need to
    feel, a sense of belonging with their peers.

    Bennett’s (2011) research indicates the importance of relationships between and
    among children, which supports their sense of belonging, and in turn endorses the
    development of social identity – a sense of self in relation to others. The development
    of social identity, may account for why some children placed greater importance on
    working with others to perceive themselves as included. Children, who had not
    sufficiently developed their sense of self, may have sought the reassurance from
    others to support their feelings of belonging and therefore inclusion. Thus, belonging
    is considered a dimension of children’s perceived notions of inclusion in pedagogical
    activities, which can manifest itself through the relationship with another child and/
    or practitioner.

    Figure 3. Scarlet’s drawing of a pedagogical activity in which she does not perceive herself to be

    508 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

    Democratic pedagogies

    Two notions that children identified as important to their inclusion, and which relate to
    democratic pedagogies are, Children’s interests and Autonomy over the content, context
    or mode of delivery of the pedagogical activity. Regarding children’s interests, Leo (RI)
    referred to being included when he was able to learn about matters that were of interest
    to him and did not perceive himself to be included when the content was boring.
    Observations also noted differing levels of well-being and involvement in a variety of
    large group activities. Freya’s (RI) external behaviour in different group activities,
    seemed to imply that it was the content, rather than group activity per se, that
    influenced her perception of inclusion. She was observed displaying higher levels of
    well-being and involvement in a group phonics sessions than in group activities focus-
    ing on mathematics (LIS).

    The connection between autonomy and children’s perceived notions of inclusion
    comes from the expression of different interpretations of the same pedagogical activity.
    It is interesting to note that most of these comments came from children at Riverside
    Infants, where grouping occurred according to perceived ability. In contrast, children
    at Oak Ridge Primary were able to access pedagogical activities according to their
    own wishes. For example, when asked why she felt most included in large group activi-
    ties, Hannah (ORP DR) replied ‘Because I was listening to the teacher and what she
    says’, whereas Daniel (RI I) explained that he did not feel included ‘Cos it’s too

    Examples referring to the outdoor environment, portray Nathan (ORP DR) perceiving
    himself to be included because ‘I can breathe the air out of my mouth’; and Jack (RI I)
    ‘Because I can shout outside’; whereas Emma (RI I) did not perceive herself as included
    ‘Cos I hate going outside, cos it’s so … I thought it was going to rain (whispers). And

    Figure 4. Emma’s drawing of a pedagogical activity in which she does not perceive herself to be


    it’s freezing outside!’ Her sad face in the drawing (Figure 4) provides further evidence that
    Emma did not feel included in the outdoor environment.

    These differing responses to the same pedagogical activity may be due to the content
    or the context of the pedagogical activity, or there may be alternative reasons. However,
    it is not important to understand why children perceive themselves to be less included,
    but rather a provision of opportunities should be available for children to take charge of
    their learning (Holec 1981). This concurs with Dam (1990) who refers to autonomy in
    terms of being able to select materials, methods and tasks. Moreover, Rose and Meyer
    (2002) state that by giving children access to meaningful choice, by providing options
    that are culturally and age-relevant, and personalised and contextualised to children’s
    lives, it will promote intrinsic motivation. Children would concentrate for longer
    periods of time and exhibit more outward signs of enjoyment, since they would be
    inherently gratified and prompted by the feeling that learning is interesting and enjoy-
    able (Glynn et al. 2011). Siraj-Blatchford and Clarke (2000) refer to children needing to
    be in a state of emotional well-being and for the curriculum to be experiential, social/
    interactional and instructive if they are to learn. This paper extends the notion further,
    proposing that high levels of emotional well-being and involvement need to be present
    if children are to perceive themselves as included in pedagogical activities.

    Harris (2015) reports on the necessity for early childhood education to make learning
    meaningful and powerful to the child’s voice. The potential enhancement of inclusion for
    all children becomes possible by providing pedagogical activities that are sufficiently varied
    in content, delivery and context. This could increase children’s autonomy in their learning,
    rather than marginalising them by practitioners’ decision-making (Dahl 1982). Hart,
    Drummond, and McIntyre (2007), however, illuminate the tension between practitioners
    adopting pedagogical practices that belie determinist beliefs, and their response to the
    external judgements of bodies, such as Ofsted (the English regulatory and inspection
    body for the education of children). They identify that in England, school inspectors
    are trained to judge the extent to which teaching is differentiated by ability level
    (Ofsted 2000), despite the large body of research that documents its negative effects on
    students self-perception (Ireson and Hallam 2001).

    In contrast, Florian and Black-Hawkins (2011) assert that inclusive pedagogical
    approaches can be achieved when attention is paid to everyone through the availability
    of diverse tasks and activities, and without the stigmatising effects of marking some stu-
    dents as different, particularly through perceived ability. Thus, a rationale is presented
    that adopts democratic practices of communicative shared experience (Dewey 2004),
    where practitioner and child work together in the learning experience. It espouses Kame’e-
    nui and Carnine’s (1998) position that practitioners must present learning materials (and
    pedagogical activities) in stimulating ways that recognise children’s individuality, whilst
    addressing the needs of the whole class.

    A further consideration of democratic pedagogy is the position of trust adopted by the
    practitioner, in which children know the practitioner will respond to their requests about
    how they learn (Hart, Drummond, and McIntyre 2007). Thus, engaging with children’s
    voices offers the possibility for promoting inclusion through the design of democratic ped-
    agogies, and positions children as capable and influential beings (Prout 2000), who are
    actively involved in the process of learning.

    510 P. A. SHAW ET AL.

  • Limitations of the study
  • Some methodological difficulties arose whilst reflecting on the research process. Firstly,
    using pictures of children learning in different pedagogical activities, presented some con-
    ceptual issues. The intention was to evoke discussion about the children’s understanding
    of inclusion; however, it is acknowledged that by providing pictures that portrayed very
    specific ways of children working in different pedagogical environments, possible
    interpretations of inclusion may have been suggested. In future research, alternative pic-
    tures will be utilised that enable a child-led rather than adult-led approach.

    Secondly, whilst the LIS offered a convenient starting position for collecting data that
    related to the children’s body language and facial expressions, as the data collection pro-
    gressed, its limiting factors became apparent. The language of the scale prescribed the data
    itself, which in turn constrained the analysis. Future research would focus more closely on
    unstructured observations.

  • Conclusion
  • The research study focused on an exploration of children’s perceptions of inclusion in
    pedagogical activities in Reception classes, using participatory research tools to engage
    with children who have direct experience of inclusion.

    The findings signify that there were two dimensions key to children’s perceptions of
    inclusion. Firstly, belonging and relationships were noted as crucial, through the children’s
    desire to work with one another and/or a practitioner. This reflects Wenger’s (1998) posi-
    tioning of learning as belonging through social communities, which has strong resonance
    with the principles of inclusion in terms of participation. It concurs with Rose’s (2007) call
    for an approach that promotes inclusion through the provision of opportunities for chil-
    dren to socialise with others and engage with pedagogical activities.

    Secondly, democratic pedagogies emerged from examples of children responding
    differently to the same pedagogical activity. This indicates that notions of inclusion are
    complex and multi-faceted and mean different things to different children. It offers a
    new critique of child-centred pedagogies, which have traditionally argued for children
    to have free choices about their activities (Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva 2004). Building on
    Wood’s (2014) notion that child-centred pedagogies do not always empower children,
    this research offers an insight into how child-centred pedagogical approaches could actu-
    ally marginalise these children. If children are provided with pedagogical activities that
    require them to make decisions based on their interests and preferred ways of working,
    it is possible that they may perceive themselves as less included if they have insufficient
    skills to make such decisions. By adopting democratic pedagogies, it is conceived that chil-
    dren could operate in an environment of co-construction where the child and adult are
    equal partners, enabling children to move between structured and supportive prac-
    titioner-directed activities and more spontaneous child-initiated ones. Consequently,
    neither is dominating the field of shared meanings (Jordan 2004) and the practitioner
    ‘cannot merely be an implementer … of projects and programmes decided by and
    created by others, for some “other” child and for contexts’ (Rinaldi 2005, 56).

    The findings are of particular significance for educational contexts where formalised
    teaching approaches are adopted or encouraged early in children’s primary education.


    This may result in a lack of consideration of the individuality, diversity and inclusion of
    children. Consequently, they raise important issues for academic research and knowledge
    in the international field of inclusion. Placing children’s voices at the forefront of this
    study, advances the conceptualisation of the notion of inclusion by illuminating the per-
    ceptions of such a young group of children and making their voices heard.

  • Disclosure statement
  • No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

  • Notes on contributors
  • Patricia A. Shaw is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Hull, UK, where her key areas of
    interest are engaging with children’s voices, inclusion and participation.

    Kyriaki Messiou is Associate Professor in Education at the University of Southampton. Her
    research interests focus on inclusive education, students’ voices, and participation and marginalisa-
    tion in school.

    Chronoula Voutsina is a Lecturer at the University of Southampton. She completed a degree in
    Early Years Education at the University of Patras, Greece, a DEA (Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies)
    in Systems of Learning and Evaluation at the University of Aix-Marseile -I, France and her PhD in
    Mathematics Education at the University of Southampton, UK. Her research interests include
    young children’s learning and development in pre-school and early primary school education
    and the development and understanding of early mathematics concepts.

  • Patricia A. Shaw
    Kyriaki Messiou
    Chronoula Voutsina

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